There have been a lot of these cases recently, we’ve seen the same with the estates of the guys who created Superman suing DC. Basically, in the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and seventies (I believe that things didn’t begin to change until well into the 80s, but I’m sure more knowledgeable people than me will correct me if I’m wrong) pretty much everyone in comics worked on a purely work for hire basis. You did the work, you got paid and the publisher owned that work fully. You signed over all intellectual rights, all copyright, to the publisher in return for your pay check. There were no royalties, no percentages of profits from movies, TV and merchandise, just that one pay check and that was it.
The question in all of these legal cases is essentially: do the people who created these characters own some or all of the rights to these characters no matter what the original deal they were working under was? (And, also, remember that in most cases these creators are dead, and it’s their descendants who are pursuing legal action).
The answer, in my opinion, is that morally, yes, they do. It’s not right that people who created characters that have gone on to make millions or even billions of dollars for the companies they worked for have, often, ended their lives in abject poverty. However, legally, no, they don’t. Sadly, a court of law is there to decide what is and isn’t legally right, not what is or isn’t morally right. I know there are individual cases where publishers have decided that even though a creator has no legal right to royalties they have come to an arrangement that means they receive money whenever characters they created are used, and that has continued past that creator’s death and their living relatives have continued to receive payments. I would love to see both big publisher’s do more of that. Of course, by the very nature of those deals we rarely hear about them, and the one that I’m aware of, I believe, is not public knowledge, and I only know about it because the creator involved was a good friend of a good friend.
I should add, I feel, that it’s important to remember that these creators were all very happy to work under these conditions at the time. That these were the normal working practices in the industry and that, at the time, they made a living working under them. They would still get paid the same amount for creating many characters that didn’t go on to spawn franchises worth multi-million dollars. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s important to put these things in context. It’s also important to remember that what seems like a tiny sum of money to us now would have seemed like a lot more in the sixties or the thirties. Comic book history is full of people signing deals that they were very happy with at the time turning round and crying foul years later when their creation has proven to be far more successful than anyone could have imagined. The lesson here is to read your contract carefully before signing it. Also, sometimes it’s worth both remembering and accepting that it can be more important to simply put bread on your table today than to maybe be a rich man some day in the future.
As for what the outcomes of these legal wranglings could mean? Disney and Time Warner have excellent lawyers, I’d be amazed if they lost. If they did, it just means they end up making a little less money than they are now…but I suspect that if there was any danger of them losing then they’d settle out of court.
Ultimately, the much more important issue, as far as I’m concerned, is that a lot of these characters should be moving into the public domain anyway. People are fighting over the rights to characters that should belong to us all. Copyright law has been twisted and manipulated to secure corporate profits rather than to serve the purpose it was originally created for.
The most beautiful scene out of the entire series.
I cried like a bitch
This was by far the most important thing that happened in Australia in the year 2000
Fuck, my tea.
Err… Are you going to the leaving thing for Kathy, tonight?
Nature abhors dimensional abnormalities, and seals them neatly away so that they don’t upset people. Nature, in fact, abhors a lot of things, including vacuums, ships called the “Marie Celeste”, and the chuck keys for electric drills.