A Contract Should be Simple, Right?

I saw this posted on my Facebook wall today, and it was followed by a large chorus of “here here’s” from the poster’s following. Between artists and developers, I have many people I am friends with or following that frequently are in client / provider positions on a regular basis. I was shocked to see how many people seemed very approving of this idea. It seductive to think that all that “legal jargon,” as the article refers to it, is put there by unscrupulous lawyer types just to hide the truth from us plain-speakin’ folk. That an agreement shouldn’t require more than a hearty handshake and a desire to work together. But that is not the truth. In reality, a good contract is written for the benefit and protection of both parties, and tries to cover the legal risks that both parties may face and provide a framework for fairly evaluating disputes. And this contract does none of that. But that is because, it’s not really their contract.

This is Marketing. It is part of their “I Am” project, and it is being somewhat misrepresented by the bloggers at Boing-Boing. (I know; it’s shocking.) It’s a very canny way for the company to brand themselves and market themselves as hip and edgy within a given space. That, along with the other marketing materials they created for this campaign say “I am a professional and your hired me for the skills I have and for the work I can do that you can’t. I trust you to make my car, please trust me to do your creative work.” I love and firmly support that message. Marketing is a super competitive field and only those constantly making a splash survive for any real length of time. Kudos to them for that. I applaud and doff my cap in their direction.

To be fair, I also probably wouldn’t work with them, either, even if I could afford it. This campaign also says, “I know everything and you know nothing.” I think that a good business relationship involved trust and respect on both parties. When I contract someone, I tend to be very hands off and expect them to use their expertise to deliver what I can’t. But I also expect them to understand that if I request that the logo be bigger, it’s because I want the logo to be bigger. I have my reasons and they should be respected.

The only real problem I have with this is the attempt of the Boing-Boing bloggers to give it legitimacy by implying it is the actual contract and by including the following response from BaseCamp CEO Jason Fried, “[if] someone fucks you, rather than pursuing legal remedies which cost even more time, money, and hassle, there’s an alternative: Take your losses, wash your hands, and don’t work with them again.” The honest to god truth is that that is horrible advice. Working with large multinational corporations, when they want to “fuck” you, it isn’t a case of live and learn. It can bankrupt your company. It can put you on the street and up to your neck in debt. It can cost your employees their jobs, unless your company in turn has the resources to just shrug it off. And even working with smaller companies and freelancers, who has the money to so cavalierly “take their losses?”

BaseCamp, btw, is a child company of 37Signals, which Jason Fried started up, and which enjoyed a $100 million-dollar valuation in 2009. I suspect that they can take a few more losses than you can.

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