I assume you are aware of the Gary Friedrich Situation. The basic gist is that Gary Friedrich sued Marvel claiming copyright of Ghost Rider, a character he might have co-created. He lost the lawsuit, and the judge ordered Friedrich to pay $17,000 in damages, and he’s not allowed to sell Ghost Rider themed anything anymore. He’s also a bit older, and if the stories are true, not in the best financial situation.
Some see this as a corporation stomping on the little guy. Others see it as a baseless lawsuit. Me? I don’t know. I think it’s not as clear cut as any of those simple answers.
Cartoonist Ty Templeton put it this way:
It’s a tough call, honestly, and there is no shortage of people sharing their minds on the subject.
One way it’s affecting artists is in the area of selling sketches and sketchbooks featuring copyrighted characters, and whether the publishers can come down on you for that. I’ve thought about it for years as I wander through comic conventions. There is unlicensed merchandise everywhere. I always figured there was so much that the IP holders didn’t have the resources to do anything about it. But in the case with Friedrich, it was used as a stick
In response, artist Sean Murphy (Joe the Barbarian, American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest) has decreed that he’ll no longer do commissions of unauthorized characters.
Regarding the debate of whether comic artists should continue selling unauthorized prints/sketches of characters they don’t own, I think Bissette and his legal advisor are 100% correct. So from now on, I won’t be doing any sketches or commissions at shows of any character that I don’t own. Am I rolling over in fear of Marvel? Maybe, but as it states below, they’re in their legal right to come after me if there’s ever a dispute. I love to complain about the Big Two, but I can’t (in good conscience) get upset at them if I’m breaking the rules myself. Being DC exclusive, maybe I can get a waiver that allows me to sketch DC characters, so I’ll keep you updated.
He goes on to cite comments made by Stephen Bissette’s legal advisor, who claims of the above cartoon that Templeton “is talking (drawing?) out of his ass.”
As will happen, the online comics community has been talking about this all day. If lots of artists took this road, the gray market of convention sketches and copyright would change completely. Is that a bad thing? It depends on your point of view. Artists who make this pledge are certain to lose at least some money, and it might be a little harder to fill out your X-Men themed sketchbook, but it’s also a sensible course. But is it undue caution? Time will tell.
In the meantime, whether he’s in the right or not, Steve Niles has set up a place where people can donate to Gary Friedrich to help him with his legal expenses, and whatever else he might need.
If we’ve learned nothing else over the past month, read your contracts, and be well aware of what you’re signing, and who owns what. Use the lessons of yesterday to make better decisions today, and as readers, keep yourself informed so that you’re giving your money to the people you want to support.
UPDATE: Comic Book Resources spoke with Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley and Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada about this situation in general and in the below quotes they spoke to the concerns of this lawsuit infringing on the activities in artist’s alley at conventions.
Let me put this as simply as I can: Marvel is not looking to make any new policy announcements through this lawsuit — a lawsuit that began five years ago.
As a case in point, the Internet and the creative community became incredibly concerned when Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, thinking that Marvel now wouldn’t return original art to its artists, even despite my publicly stating the contrary. As you can see, that was unfounded.
We in no way want to interfere with creators at conventions who are providing a positive Marvel experience for our fans. We want fans to speak and interact with the creators who wrote, penciled, inked, lettered, colored or edited their favorite stories. Part of that positive interaction is that a fan can walk away with a signed memento or personalized sketch from an artist.