notes: copyrights and comics


[Thoughts due to: io9: Who Created Spider-Man? ]

It is a deal-breaking case that has been filed against Marvel Comics, probably fueled by the recent success of Siegel vs DC for the Superman copyright (and the acquisition of Marvel by Disney too?). My own WTF was fueled by whether Spidey even belongs to this dispute (he probably doesn’t). The Superman case in itself is not completely without wtf-ness given the way the rights to Superman have been split up [link]:

…the Siegels have recaptured the rights to the first two weeks of the daily Superman newspaper strips, and portions of Action Comics and Superman comics. They apparently now control all depictions of Superman’s origin story, which means they now own Krypton, its fiery destruction, Jor-El and Lora, and Kal El. In 2008, the Siegels recaptured the rights to the Superman character (which includes his costume and his alter-ego of Clark Kent), Lois Lane, the Daily Planet, its gruff editor, and their love triangle. DC still owns Jimmy Olson, his ability to fly, Lex Luthor, kryptonite, and Superman’s expanded powers and origins.

Plus ALL rights revert to Siegel/Shuster (?) come 2013. Keep in mind this ruling is in spite of multiple previous rulings that the DC owned the rights to the character, and the fact that the creators had actually legally signed away the rights for $130 in 1938 “forever and all time”. Plus multiple previous not-so-small settlements by DC to the creators due to legal disputes. Admittedly I’m taking a simplified view of things, there are deep implications to the settlement.

The Kirby case, on the other hand, is a lot more wide-ranging for Marvel. Kirby worked on almost ALL Marvel’s characters (unlike the above case which is just about Superman). The dispute is over the copyrights and not trademarks, so the movies may remain unaffected (meaning the large majority won’t really care), but the comics may be significantly hit. One interesting point is that the original Kirby dispute was to do with his artwork – he never did get back all his original artwork from Marvel. Very little is said about who owns the character work he did (unlike Siegel who definitely signed his away).

Another thing that jumped out at me was that Kirby did not want to battle it out in court over copyrights. And now, suddenly, cases are being filed all over the place. I’m not really sure what the justification is when the original creator had no wish to do so. Would Kirby’s work be worth anything if Marvel did not publish/market it? Remember that Kirby has been paid for his work, has creator credit in most cases, and all this copyright business was nowhere even a year ago – when Marvel’s properties were just hitting the market. The timing for the case is impeccable given the Marvel movie roster and the acquisition.

Filing cases against the biggest players in the business is a routine matter now – maximum damage is guaranteed. For e.g. M$ has had issues with integrated browser and desktop search – even though Apple/Linux installs have the exact same strategy today! I agree that Marvel/DC may have shortchanged creators, but they must also be given credit for making their characters successful in multiple arenas. Worse of all, targeting their copyrights will first affect the fan-base that makes the movies possible – us comic book geeks. Why? We won’t get the characters we have supported any more. Is that really what their creators would like to see of their legacy?

My new series of posts via Reader. As promised. You’ve been warned.


6 thoughts on “notes: copyrights and comics

  1. I’m conflicted on this issue. There’s no doubt that lots of artists, including Siegel, Shuster and Kirby got screwed by the comic companies. They certainly deserved to earn a pile of money for their creations. I’m not so sure about the families though. I’m also worried that Superman will get (more) hacked up in terms of ownership. What happens when all of this litigation ruins the character for the fans. What difference does it make who owns it then?

    • SEV

      I agree. Its sad that copyrights are being misused to eventually screw over the people who genuinely love the final product of the copyright.

  2. Marvel and DC have since time immemorial functioned like this. None of the individual artists get ownership of the characters they create but still the true fanboys know and appreciate their work. There is no question of exploitation since thats the way the industry functioned. I think it was Image comics that was founded by several jilted artists including the fabulous Jim Lee which for the first time gave ownership to the artists.

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