Copyright expirations in comics.

Glenn Hauman

Glenn is VP of Production at ComicMix. He has written Star Trek and X-Men stories and worked for DC Comics, Simon & Schuster, Random House, arrogant/MGMS and Apple Comics. He's also what happens when a Young Turk of publishing gets old.

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6 Responses

  1. Sean D. Martin says:

    I'm not by any means conversant with the pros/cons fo various limits on copyrights, but I'd have thought that the expiration clock would start when a creator ceases to publish a character, not when they start to.

    • mike weber says:

      See, that's where we get into copyright/trademark issues; copyright (on the specific story/illustration/movie) counts from when it is "fixed in it final form" – for that one piece.Trademark, however, counts from the last renewal.And it's trademark that says you can't produce new material about someone else's character.For instance, Houghton-Mifflin goofed up with their first editions of "Lord of the Rings" and invalidated the US copyright on that specific version; anyone could legally publish it (and Ace Books did, in competition with the authorised Ballantine paperback version).But Tolkien (and now his estate) still owned the rights to the characters, world, etc., and were the only people who could write (well, as i said in my other comment, the only ones who could publish) new stories about Bilbo or Frodo or Gandalf or whatever…

  2. mike weber says:

    Actually, even if the copyright lapsed, allowing anyone to reprint existing stories about batman, the trademark would still, i think, be valid, barring someone writing new stories about Bats. (Well, from publishing them; nobody can stop you from writingstories about anything you please. Publishing them is another matter entirely.)

    • Glenn Hauman says:

      No. You could write new stories about a character whose initial appearances had lapsed into public domain, even if later appearances have not yet done so– you just can't reference those later stories that are still in copyright. Think of it as forking codebase in computer software. You can write stuff that lies on top of stuff that's in the public domain, and you can own the code for what you create.For example, I can publish a Zorro story. But I couldn't publish Disney's version of it.

  3. RD Francis says:

    Actually (as evidenced by the various Oz comics over the past 20 years), the expiration of copyright allows you to both freely reprint the original work, and to create derivative works of the original work.Trademark (again, as I understand it, and IANAL) prevents someone from producing a work that uses your trademark to sell it.So – As the original Oz books fell into the public domain, it became possible to create new works derived from them without any approval from L. Frank Baum's estate/heirs. However, as the MGM "The Wizard of Oz" movie is still under copyright, you can't draw the characters to look like Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, etc.To go back to the Superman litigation, if the Siegels and/or Shusters reclaimed their portion of the copyright for the Superman story from ACTION COMICS #1, they could publish comics featuring a character that looks like Superman did at that point, and call the character Superman in the comic – but the couldn't title the book THE NEW SUPERMAN COMICS; in fact, I suspect the word "Superman" would have to be avoided on the cover. That's because DC would continue to have a trademark on that name. Precise costume details might also be an issue, as DC presumably has the five-sided, "Diamond"-shaped S-logo solidly trademarked. The original costume, if usable on covers, would probably always have to involve poses that clearly display the differences in the two costumes, as anything that obscured those differences could be seen as trademark infringement.

  4. Paul1963 says:

    Look for the term to be extended again around 2018, definitely before 2023. Why? Because, under the current law, a certain multi-billion-dollar rodent's first appearances would hit public domain in 2023.I'm just sayin'…