The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

NYCC 2008: Comics, Concepts & Copyrights Panel

Written by: Ron Bricker

Image"This session will help comic book creators learn how to legally protect their comic book ideas and creations. We will unpack key copyright, trademark, and other intellectual property (IP) issues that control how comic book properties are sold." -NYCC Program Guide

This panel began with a thank you from the moderator, entertainment attorney and ex-television producer, Thomas Crowell, for coming to a panel concerning the legal side of the industry rather than the fun side. Panelsists included another enetertainment attorney Sheafe Walker and blogger/teacher Jeff Trexler. Trexler is a frequent blogger on the Superman lawsuit currently going on, which is going to be discussed within this presentation. Following introductions, Crowell provided a disclaimer that was semi-amusing, about not asking them for legal advice during the Q&A, that this was only an informational panel.

Through a fancy power point presentation, Crowell began to explain what the panel was all about. Basically, a brief overview of the ins and outs of the complications of copyright laws, how to go about getting the rights to properties, and what constitutes an IP.  

So what is an IP law? Copyright (original works of expression), Rights in Ideas (the idea but not designs), Trademark (titles, etc), Rights of Publicity (things being used for promotion without consent) are all laws that protect the author/creators rights to the IP. Copyright gives the owner exclusive right to take his or her work and, make copies, perform it in public, display it publicly or make derivative works. Any of these done without consent to the owner is grounds for infringement.

Crowell when on to discuss going to the copyright website and how to go about protecting your work. He made this clear: IDEAS ARE NOT COVERED BY COPYRIGHT LAW! *gasp*. Any copyrights you register, they last your entire life, then 70 years from the date of death. If it's co-created, then the 70 years begins on the last surviving author's death date. 

Crowell then segwayed into "work for hire". The copyright is owned by the publishing company. It is in the publisher's interest to have all contracts as work for hire, so they won't lose the copyright after 35 years. An interesting point: joint authors do not have to have contributed the same amount of work to a creation to be covered by the copyright. This means joint authors need a contract between one another to determine how things will be split between them.  As an example of all of this, they brought about the example of Neil Gaiman vs. Seth McFarlane. McFarlane had commissioned Gaiman to write an issue of Spawn in which he created several new characters, that McFarlane drew. Because there was no contract between them, they were deemed joint authors by the courts. 

Moving onto infringement cases, Crowell brought up Superman vs. Captain Marvel, National Comics Publications vs. Fawcett Publications.

And all of a sudden…10 minute warning! Apparantly, panels are only 45 minutes, and NOT an hour. Screwed. After some complaints from the crowd for skipping through some "fair use" information. To make up for it, he agreed to post it on his website.

The presentation shifted to Jeff Trexler, who presented the Siegel family vs. DC, regarding Action Comics #1. The Siegels "co-own" Superman, but DC still owns all of the trademarks. Disappointingly, I still don't understand as much as I'd hoped regarding this case, due to the rushed nature. However, the panel did move back to fair use, much to the crowd's excitement.

Overall, this panel was informative, but ultimately the rushing of it that occurred was incredibly detrimental.


Author: Ron Bricker

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