We all grew up listening to our parents tell us how talent, dedication and hard work would get us far in life. But the reality is that even if you go out and change the world, there's no guarantee you'll be rewarded for your efforts.
There have been plenty of people throughout history that made amazing contributions to modern culture and got precisely dick in return.
#6. Alexey Pajitnov, Creator of Tetris
There are some games in life that everyone plays at some point. Checkers, chess, Monopoly, doctor and motherfucking Tetris.
In 1984, Alexey Pajitnov was working as a programmer at the Russian Academy of Science, a research and development center you'd think would be busy designing nuclear warheads during the Cold War. His field was artificial intelligence, however, which meant he could spend a lot of time at his desk creating puzzles and games while pretending to work.
Purely to amuse himself he created the falling-block game Tetris over the course of just a couple of weeks. Everybody in the office got addicted to it and over the next few years deals were made to sell the game abroad.
It has since sold more than 70-million copies, earned a couple of billion dollars in revenue and is available on nearly every single video game-playing device in the world.
And occasionally human skin, apparently.
So How Did the Creator Make Out?
The game was invented in a still-Communist Russia, which usually didn't believe in the whole concept of doing things for personal gain. So for creating the most popular videogame ever, Alexey got a big fat check made out to "Fuck Your Balls" in the amount of "With a Hammer."
Actually, Pajitnov's superiors did make him a deal: They would help him get the game published in the West, and they would keep the money. The Soviet government did graciously say that after 10 years they would revisit the issue and maybe see about sending him some of the cash, but long before that deadline was reached, the Soviet government itself collapsed. Maybe there's some abandoned office in Moscow where Tetris royalty checks continue to land in some bureaucrat's inbox, and squirrels are making a nest out of them.
This story does sort of have a happy ending. Pajitnov did manage to secure the rights to Tetris... in 2004. Twenty fucking years and countless millions in missed royalties later.
#5. George Romero, Writer/Director of Night of the Living Dead
The father of the zombie film is unquestionably George Romero. He's the braaaaaaains (get it?) behind Night of the Living Dead, which many consider to be the basis for the whole modern horror genre. Friday the 13th, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street were all influenced by Romero's groundbreaking directorial debut.
Groundbreaking, get it? OK seriously, we'll stop now.
Of course it spawned several sequels and countless knockoffs and remakes, and the film itself has been selling on video and DVD for 40 years. Not bad, George.
So How Did the Creator Make Out?
Thanks to his functionally retarded distributor, George Romero has earned virtually nothing from his movie in the decades since release. See, back in the 60s you had to blatantly add a copyright notice into your films, essentially forcing people to slap a big "This Shit Is Mines" onto their movie's title slide, or else it immediately belonged to everybody. Well, the distributor did that, but then they went back and changed the title. Hilariously, they forgot to re-add the copyright notice.
"Wait, that shit is mines!"
So Night of the Living Dead is actually a free movie, technically part of the public domain. The whole thing is posted on YouTube, and you can find remastered versions in the Wal-Mart bargain bin--literally anyone can release their own copies of the movie, and they can legally keep all of the profits.
Today the Internet Movie Database lists 23 different goddamn versions. Somewhere, buried among them, is the one version that actually pays Romero.
#4. The Winstons, Creators of One of the Worlds Most Famous Pieces of Music
The modern world is full of little sound clips that you know somebody has to have invented, but you never know who. Like that ding that every elevator does right before the door opens, the sound Windows makes when it boots up or the chirp you get when you turn off a car alarm.
Or like the sound of face being smashed beneath our powerful fists.
The Amen Break is kind of like that.
It's a five-second snatch of drums that has been sampled on hundreds--or thousands--of songs. You've heard it this week. You can find the Amen Break in countless hip-hop, acid house, trance and rave songs. You'll even hear it in ads. Its been slowed down, sped up, spliced, chopped, split, dismembered and used as the basis for seemingly every other song that doesn't use a live band. Experts have even tried to figure out the scientific reason as to why it's so popular.
Maybe they should ask The Winstons, since they came up with it. The Amen Break is just a five-second loop of a drum solo from the middle of one of their songs (called "Amen, Brother") which was just a B-side to a single released in 1969.
So How Did the Creators Make Out?
The Winstons played in an era when trying to establish copyright on a five-second hunk of drums seemed insane. We're guessing their drummer (G.C. Coleman) didn't finish playing and think, "Damn, I bet that drum solo is going to become the cornerstone of several genres of music a generation from now!"
"It'll take two generations, at least."
But even after people started "borrowing" it at will, The Winstons intentionally let the Amen Break spread without ever trying to collect from anyone... even after another company named Zero G copyrighted the Amen break as their own so they could try to cash in instead.
Either The Winstons have reached a greater plane of enlightenment, or they've just been higher than Sputnik for the past 40 years.