Commenting on the previous post about Disney acquiring Marvel Entertainment and its 5,000 characters (including superheros like Spiderman and Iron Man), a friend and filmmaker posed the following question:
Does this mean they own just the image/likeness of the character, or the words they often say "Holy Batmobile, Batman!" or both in conjunction. Do they also own the superpowers they have, or just them using them?
Good question. As I responded to my friend...Knowing Disney's reputation, I wouldn't put it past them to try to claim intellectual property rights on how a character combs his hair.
But the thing is that comic book characters (and especially superheros) are more than just a name and appearance. They're also a set of very particular characteristics that make them stand out from all others. Chances are, if you create a character who's able to sail about the city by shooting webs out of his wrists, simply changing the name to Arachnid Man isn't guaranteed to keep Disney's lawyers from sending a cease and desist letter.
Media giant Disney has announced it's acquiring Marvel Entertainment for a reported $4 billion. What's particularly significant about that—at least from an artistic property perspective—is that it means Disney will be acquiring about 5,000 characters, including the likes of Spiderman, Iron Man, and X-Men.
Ordinarily, characters fall into a kind of gray area when it comes to copyright. It's hard to claim that you have exclusive rights to a particular character with particular characteristics when those characteristics are rather ordinary. But comic book characters possess copyrightable characteristics far beyond the mere mortal character. For that reason, the specific look and traits of a comic book character are often deemed to be copyright protected intellectual property. And that makes those characters sellable property.
Yes, yes...we all know the show must go on. But not the actor if he gets mercury poisoning.
A New York Times article reports that an arbitrator has ruled in favor of actor Jeremy Piven, saying that Mr. Piven didn't violate his contract when he dropped out of the Broadway production of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow." The producers had filed a grievance against their lead actor when he bowed out of the show early because Mr. Piven reportedly got mercury poisoning.
The cause of the mercury poisoning was apparently Mr. Piven's diet—heavy on fish.
Apparently reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, now has more to battle than just the Swedish author he's trying to stop from publishing a new book that utilizes both Salinger's own likeness and that of his most famous character, Holden Caulfield of the novel Catcher in the Rye. He's also got to contend with some heavy hitters in the communications industry.
According to a story on the IP Law & Business web site, the New York Times, the Associated Press, Gannett Company, and the Tribune Company have all filed briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in which the communications giants sided with the Swedish author's right to publish the new book. To them, it's apparently foremost a First Amendment issue.
Characters typically aren't copyright protected. However, derivative works of a copyrighted creation are protectable. The question here may hinge on whether the new work is transformative enough from the old one to constitute a fair use that skirts the copyright protections of Mr. Salinger.
Maybe I ought to just start a whole new blog dedicated to T-shirt art...
Yes, my friends, once again the ubiquitous President Obama "Hope" image has found its way onto a T-shirt—this time with the word "progress" printed on it. I saw it today for the first time on a man who was wearing it as he walked past me in Georgetown. Same cropped head shot of Mr. Obama. Same stylized use of color manipulation. Same placement of the solitary word at the bottom.
As those who've been following Shepard Fairey's case already know, Mr. Fairey's being sued by the Associated Press, which claims the artist misappropriated the AP's copyright photo when he adapted it into the now famous poster that graces so many T-shirts (and other merchandise).
The question I raise is this...Was this new "Progress" T-shirt another of Mr. Fairey's creations? Or was it someone else appropriating Mr. Fairey's work? If Mr. Fairey didn't authorize a derivative work, does he have grounds to sue? And does the AP now have someone else to litigate against?