Monday, October 31, 2022

Media Rights and Producer Credits

 

            A frequent topic I have written about on this blog involves media rights. Personally, I believe it to be a valuable topic for creators to understand, and I doubt there will be a time when I will not be writing about publishers’ various attempts to obtain and exploit media rights. Previously, I have mostly discussed whether a publisher should be granted the right to exploit a comic’s media rights. While weighing whether or not to grant a publisher these rights, it is also important to understand any additional compensation publishers and creators and creators can obtain in these types of deals.

Recently, there has been a flurry of announcements of comic books being optioned by film studios. When I read these announcements, one of the key things I look for is who is named as a executive producer or producer. The vast majority of these deals tend to find the publisher, or some of the publisher’s “key” staff, listed as executive producers. Creators are frequently absent from these positions.       

            Why is this important? Money and prestige. Often, executive producers receive compensation, which can add up to being a decent amount of money depending on the deal structure. Additionally, being listed as executive producer on a successful film or TV series also raises the profile and prestige of those involved. Personally, I believe comic book creators should receive no less favorable treatment than the publisher or the publisher’s staff. The comic book would not exist without the creators, and they should benefit as much as possible from their creation. If creators do not receive these positions, then they are receiving less money than they could, and they are being deprived of a role that could open future opportunities.

Furthermore, many publishing agreements that allow a publisher to seek these types of deals exclude this money from being split with the creators. Often, these types of deals will have the publisher and creators splitting the money received from an option, and then the publisher using its position to obtain separate exec producer deals. The creators might be given the ability to negotiate for a separate deal, but the publisher often includes language that prevents them from using the leverage they need in order to obtain it—the creators cannot scuttle the deal if they don’t receive a separate producer deal. It feels exploitative to me that any type of “creator-owned” publisher would use their position to obtain positions and fees based on the creators’ work and not it share with them.

            As I have stated numerous times, I believe a publishing agreement, particularly one that is supposed to be for a “creator-owned” work, should only cover publishing rights—that is, the right to publish your comic. If a publisher wants anything to do with a comic’s media rights, it should be via a separate deal. If a publisher obtains the right to exploit the media rights, I believe the publisher and the creator should be treated equally, and the creator should have ultimate say in the disposition of the media rights. Unfortunately, these types of arrangements seem far too rare and, based on what I’ve been seeing lately, decreasing.

            Be wary of any publishing deal that grants a publisher the right to exploit your media rights without additional (or any) compensation, gives the publisher the right to grant your media rights to others without your consent, and does not obligate the publisher to treat the creators with the same respect and positions as it gives its staff.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Halloween Costumes and Knock-offs - Part VI

     Once again, we've entered October. As I said before, Halloween is one of my favorite times of year. For the last few years, I have been doing a post on what I believe to be knock-offs of superhero costumes, and you can find last year's post here. Surprisingly, this year was a little harder to find them on Amazon than in previous years. Thankfully, my wife introduced me to another site that seemed to have plenty. One thing to note, I'm disappointed by the current lack of creativity with the knock-offs. The rise of printed bodysuits really has taken the fun out of this. (Note: all links to Amazon are affiliate links.)


                                                         

This costume might be poisonous to my list, as I cannot tell if I've previously featured it.

    

                                                             

 This one looks fishy.


                                                                   

If the star-spangled man has a plan, what does this star-spangled hero have?



Having done this costume before, this is one of the laziest costumes you can do, and paying $50 for a knock-off is a bad idea.





The moon should punish somebody for this one.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Trademarking a She-Hulk

             It’s a rare occasion when a MCU movie or TV show covers something that I feel like commenting on here, but a recent She-Hulk episode covered an interesting area of trademark law, and I think it warrants a bit of my commentary, particularly since I have encountered this situation before.

            In episode 5, “Mean, Green, and Straight Poured in to These Jeans”, Jen Walters, aka She-Hulk, finds herself in a trademark lawsuit. Her nemesis, Titania, has obtained a trademark for the name SheHulk and is using it to promote a line of beauty products. Titania has sued Walters to prevent her continued use of the She-Hulk name. Eventually, Walters is able to prevail in the lawsuit because she had embraced the She-Hulk name, and was identified by it, before the trademark lawsuit.

            Overall, the story reached the correct outcome, but I still have a few quibbles. Assuming this is a federal trademark, it didn’t feel like enough time had passed for Titania to have obtained a trademark registration, or even an approved application that would be enforceable. I’m willing to let that pass because I have no idea how much time has passed in continuity from the emergence of She-Hulk to the events in the current episode. Additionally, it is far more likely this would have been resolved at the trademark office than in a court, but that wouldn’t make compelling TV.

My biggest gripe is that Titania’s trademark application likely never would have gotten that far. In the United States, someone cannot register the name of a living person as a trademark without their consent. The relevant statute states:

             No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of                     others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it—             

 (c) Consists of or comprises a name, portrait, or signature identifying a particular living individual except by his written consent….[1]

 Further, this has been extended to also protect shortened names, pseudonyms, stage names, and nicknames.[2]

It is highly unlikely that Titania would have been able to obtain an approved trademark registration over the She-Hulk name. It is common practice for trademark examiners to conduct a basic search, and such a search would have shown the existence of She-Hulk, unless Titania had registered the trademark before there was a She-Hulk. If the examiner discovered someone identifying as She-Hulk, the application would have been rejected, unless the applicant, in this case Titania, could provide evidence that she had the right to seek registration.

Admittedly, sometimes an examiner might mess up and allow a trademark to register that shouldn’t, but I find it hard to believe it would occur in this instance. I have recently encountered something similar, but in a different jurisdiction. An attempt to register a character’s name as a trademark was initially refused because the examiner believed the character to be an actual person.

Interestingly, once a name has been registered as a trademark, then it can be sold and/or transferred, and it is entirely possible the person can no longer use their name as a trademark. This is fairly common in the fashion industry where a designer will launch a clothing line under their name, sell the company, and once they’ve left the company, try to launch a new brand. If they launch a new brand, they cannot use their name as the name of their new product line. For examples, look to Halston, Christian LeCroix, and John Galliano.

As stated above, the eventual outcome on the show was correct. Titania could not usurp the She-Hulk name without her consent, and, evidence of She-Hulk being identified as a person before Titania’s trademark would have been necessary to prevail. Nevertheless, this still proves the importance of maintaining control over one’s own trademarks, and if you are conducting commerce using your name, it might make sense to seek a trademark, and if you sell your company, be certain what intellectual property assets are being transferred.



[1] 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1052.

[2] See Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure,  Sec. 1206.1.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Review: Milestone Generations

 

I recall when Milestone comics first came out buying quite a few of them. They were cool, new, and dynamic. At the time, I do not think I realized the significance of the company, or that it was separate from DC. However, I did go all-in on the World’s Collide crossover and managed to piece together a giant poster that was taped to my wall —unsuccessfully—for at least a year. So, I was very interested in the new Milestones Generation documentary on HBOMax. Unfortunately, it left me wanting more.

Part of my issue with the documentary is that it felt more like a puff piece than a serious documentary. Being sponsored by Ally, which was mentioned heavily in the final minutes, definitely contributed to the feeling that this was a light documentary made on behalf of a corporation and primarily promoting a relaunch. It also ran a brisk 50 minutes or so, which doesn’t lend itself to a deep dive into the subject matter.

Milestone was an important publisher in comic book history. It was established by African Americans, and it had a diverse lineup of characters. Personally, I would have loved to see a bit more introspection on the launch of the company, the reasons for its failure in the ‘90s, and what it was doing between the ‘90s and now. It had interviews with many of the people who worked there in the ‘90s, and some academics to provide historical context, but it was lacking in interviews of modern creators inspired by the line. I feel like that was a missed opportunity.

Overall, it was still enjoyable to watch, and it is a worthwhile watch for anyone unfamiliar with Milestone comics.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Book Review: The Business of Independent Comic Book Publishing


            I recently had the pleasure of reading a complimentary copy of Gamal Hennessy’s The Business of Independent Comic Book Publishing. As the name suggests, it is a business-oriented look at the comic book publishing process, and Hennessy draws from other sources, both inside comic publishing and outside, to create a useful guide. It is at times both encouraging and discouraging, but it is a beneficial book to anyone wanting to make their own comics.         

            In The Business of Independent Comic Book Publishing, Hennessy lays out the basics someone would need to know to self-publish their own comic book. It is a step-by-step guide that will help someone go from idea to published product and beyond. Along the way, the reader will learn the basics of business, production, distribution, marketing, sales, and many other relevant and helpful topics. He also includes many useful guides and forms creators can consult and use during the process of publishing their comics. Focusing more on the business-related issues in comic book publishing, it is not a guide to assist with creative aspects of your book.

            Hennessy is forthright in his commentary. He seeks to support and inspire aspiring creators, but he acknowledges the difficulties in financially succeeding in the industry. He highlights many of the areas where aspiring creators might encounter problems, and he provides sound advice with how to deal with, or avoid, those types of situations. Anyone following the steps laid out in the book will likely position themselves well to commercially exploit their comic—if their comic can find the right audience.

            Overall, The Business of Independent Comic Book Publishing is a worthwhile read, but it is best-geared toward those new creators who have little-to-no understanding of how to make a business work or to sell a product.

Affiliate link below.


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Copyright and LLCs

 

            Something I have seen discussed in the general entertainment realm, but less so in comics is the use of loan-out companies or LLCs and the implications on copyright. As I believe this is a valuable topic, I want to briefly touch on the issues below.

            For those unfamiliar with the concept, a loan-out company is when a person, usually a creative individual, forms a company. This company then hires the performer, and contracts their services out to other companies. It is primarily done to lower the ultimate tax burden on the creative. However, because the company is hiring the creative, the creative could be considered an employee of the creative’s company. This might have serious implications on the copyright status of any works created.

            As a brief reminder, copyright protection initially vests in the author of the work.[1] If the work is being created as a work-made-for-hire, then the initial owner of the work would be the person or entity for whom the work was prepared.[2] A work-for-hire is a work created by an employee, or a work created pursuant to a written agreement and falling within one of the nine categories of works specified in the Copyright Act.[3] (Click the link for a more detailed summary of work-made-for-hire.)

            If a work is not a work-made-for-hire, then the length of copyright protection for works created after 1978 is typically the life of the author plus 70 years.[4] If the work is a work-made-for-hire, then the term of copyright protection for works created after 1978 is “95 years from the year of its first publication, or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.”[5] The 1976 Copyright Act also that an author can terminate a transfer of copyright 35 years after the date of the transfer, or publication of the work.[6] However, the right to terminate a transfer does not apply to a work-made-for-hire.[7]

            If a creator is using an LLC or other type of company to hire out their services, then they could be inadvertently impacting their copyright rights. They may be changing the term of copyright protection for the work, and they may be removing their ability to reclaim a work after it has been assigned pursuant to the transfer termination provision mentioned above.

            It is important for creator’s considering utilizing a corporate entity for their work to consult with both their accountant and a copyright lawyer. By doing so, the creator might be able to craft a plan to utilize the tax benefits while also protecting their copyright rights.



[1] 17 U.S.C. §201(a)

[2] 17 U.S.C. §201(b)

[3] 17 U.S.C. §101

[4] 17 U.S.C. §301(a)

[5] 17 U.S.C. §301(c)

[6] 17 U.S.C. §203(a)(3)

[7] 17 U.S.C. §203(a)

Friday, April 29, 2022

Pixels & Panels Podcast Interview

     With what little free time I have lately, I have been working on a long article on a specific area of copyright law. I could have whipped up a quick post that what have likely been a rehash of something I've written before. Instead, I'll leave you with a link to a recent podcast interview I did. I hope you enjoy.

https://podcasts.apple.com/mx/podcast/13-what-does-a-comic-lawyer-do-and-why-do-you-need/id1591270391?i=1000558630458