Neil Gaiman And Todd McFarlane Fight Over Whose Derivative Character Is Owned By Whom

from the angels-in-thong-bikinis-in-the-courtroom dept

ChurchHatesTucker sends in the Associated Press report about the ongoing legal fight between writers/comic artists Todd McFarlane and Neil Gaiman, over who owns what rights to what characters. The CityPages blog actually has a version of the story with a lot more details. Frankly, the whole thing seems a little silly. McFarlane created Spawn, and later brought on guest writers. Gaiman did issue #9. Here's where it gets tricky. McFarlane (and two others) had left Marvel to start their own comic company, Image Comics, which published Spawn. Having been upset about how Marvel set up deals as "work-for-hire" (such that Marvel kept the copyright on any works done by artists/writers), Image was designed to be more creator-friendly, allowing them to retain their own copyrights.

All that sounds good, right? Except... what happens when you're talking about multiple artists all dipping into the same world? That's what caused the mess we're in now. Gaiman's Spawn introduced some new characters, which he claimed the copyright over. But, of course, those characters come out of the Spawn world, and thus, you could make the case, are clearly derivative of McFarlane's own characters. Potentially in an attempt to get around having to pay Gaiman royalties (this is the part that's very much in dispute) a later issue of Spawn introduced some new characters, which have some similarities to Gaiman's characters. And thus, the royalty fight is on. It sounds like there's some personal issues between Gaiman and McFarlane underlining all of this as well.

Honestly, the whole thing seems a bit silly, really. Though, it's a situation created by today's ridiculous level of copyright protection. Work-for-hire deals certainly have their own trouble, but when you give out separate copyrights to lots of different people involved in a project, you also end up with a bit of a thicket, which appears to be the problem McFarlane faced. In the end, though, Gaiman created a derivative work for the Spawn world and should be happy that others built on his works to do more.

In fact, to make the case against Gaiman, I'd like to quote one Neil Gaiman a couple years ago, talking about a similar lawsuit involving derivative works based on Harry Potter:
My main reaction is, having read as much as I can about it, given the copyright grey zone it seems to exist in, is a "Well, if it was me, I'd probably be flattered".... I can't imagine myself trying to stop any of the unauthorised books that have come out about me or about things I've created over the years, and where possible I've tried to help, and even when I haven't liked them I've shrugged and let it go.... My heart is on the side of the people doing the unauthorised books, probably because the first two books I did were unauthorised, and one of them, Ghastly Beyond Belief, would have been incredibly vulnerable had anyone wanted to sue Kim Newman and me on the grounds that what we did, in a book of quotations that people might not have wanted to find themselves in, went beyond Fair Use.
Seems like perhaps Neil Gaiman involved in this lawsuit should talk to that Neil Gaiman.

Though, as CHT notes in his submission (quoting from the AP report), at least this trial gave us: "Images of the characters in dispute, including the angels in thong bikinis, were projected in Crabb's courtroom throughout the daylong hearing." So maybe it's not all bad.

Filed Under: copyright, derivative works, neil gaiman, spawn, todd mcfarlane, works for hire

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  1. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 16 Jun 2010 @ 5:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Tough to let it slide...

    Doesn't much matter to me if it's fueled by greed, vengeance, malice or whathaveyou. I just think Neil is wrong in this one, just as Todd is wrong in the Miracle Man case.

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