Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

Copyright Law is Changing! Is it Time to Hit the Panic Button?

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Copyright law is about to change and creative people all across the U.S. are going into panic mode!

Everyone else could care less. Both reactions are extreme because copyright law as it stands today effects so much of our daily lives that complete enforcement of it would be nothing short of dystopian.

If you care at all, and you should, educating yourself on the current copyright law is important. It can easily be found at http://www.copyright.gov/title17/.

If you want to understand what the fuss is about concerning potential changes then you need to watch this tedious but eye opening podcast video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDoztLDF73I

The most significant part of the Copyright Act of 1976 that most people either do not understand or appreciate is that you possess ownership of copyright the moment you express a thought by affixing it to something tangible. There is no requirement to register a copyright or even attach a notice though both are beneficial. Every single person has copyright ownership of every original scribble, note, photo, video, doodle, craft, song, tune or anything else tangible that they ever created from the moment they created it provided they did not copy it from something else. Copying something without permission would be infringement of another’s copyright.

NOTE: Ideas are not protected by copyright! Only the physical expression of an idea is. Someone can have the same idea for a story or a picture but if how they tell that story or draw that picture is different there can be no conflict.

Instant ownership of copyright makes life a lot easier for creative people because they do not have to pay to register every single thing they create but in a world where now everyone is creative and able to publish their thoughts and pictures tangibly on the internet we are inundated with copyrighted material at every turn and surrounded by copyright holders.

Most people are not aware of the significance or value of copyright and consequently, as we go about our daily lives sharing or copying or quoting all the material we have such easy access to, we have unwittingly become a nation self-entitled of copyright infringers!

John Tehranian outlines in his must read paper Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap”  how easy it is to rack up a huge infringement liability on a daily basis.

“By the end of the day, John has infringed the copyrights of twenty emails, three legal articles, an architectural rendering, a poem, five photographs, an animated character, a musical composition, a painting, and fifty notes and drawings. All told, he has committed at least eighty-three acts of infringement and faces liability in the amount of $12.45 million (to say nothing of potential criminal charges). There is nothing particularly extraordinary about John’s activities. Yet if copyright holders were inclined to enforce their rights to the maximum extent allowed by law, he would be indisputably liable for a mind-boggling $4.544 billion in potential damages each year. And, surprisingly, he has not even committed a single act of infringement through P2P file sharing. Such an outcome flies in the face of our basic sense of justice. Indeed, one must either irrationally conclude that John is a criminal infringer—a veritable grand larcenist—or blithely surmise that copyright law must not mean what it appears to say. Something is clearly amiss. Moreover, the troublesome gap between copyright law and norms has grown only wider in recent years.”

As technology continues to advance it is becoming easier identify when we are being infringed upon or pirated. This is great for people who make their living creating things but what about people who may want to make their living suing people for infringing on their copyrights of photos of the family dog  or that viral cat video we all like to share? Do we really want to live in that kind of police state? Will we stop being creative because we are afraid of being infringed upon? Will we stop sharing  socially for fear of being accused of infringement?

Before 1976, copyrights had to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office similar to registering a patent or a trademark. This helped to identify copyrights that had a perceived value and allowed others to be considered public domain. Registering was definitely less convenient and more costly than the current system but may be not such a bad thing.  Unfortunately, part of the changes to copyright procedure currently being considered is privatizing the registration process. Are creatives about to be corralled into money making scheme for some greedy corporate entity with huge lobby interests in Washington?

In the aforementioned podcast video at about 20:30 in to it, editorial illustrator and copyright champion, Brad Holland, talks about a company called the Copyright Clearance Center who already conveniently owns the website www.copyright.com. He talks in detail about how this company, which has been around since 1978, (the year the Copyright Act of 1976 when into actual effect) collects fees from schools libraries and copy centers for permission to copy images and text to the tune of $300 million a year! This is similar to music collection societies like ASCAP or BMI. Mysteriously, however, creators seem to be kept out of the loop when it comes to distribution of these funds collected by the CCC. Apparently they have all the infrastructure in place to register, manage and police copyrights while making boatloads of money at creator’s expense.

Now let’s look at the elephant in the room – Work For Hire. One of the biggest issues in the Copyright Act of 1976 is that it did not do a great job of defining Work For Hire, a point that was vehemently defended by musicians anticipating their ability to terminate rights granted to record labels after 35 years as defined by the Copyright law. This is a glitch that has big companies scrambling to make deals with creators who may be closing in on that term. It is the main reason Prince was able to settle an agreement with Warner Bros. and the Kirby family was able to settle with Marvel/Disney. It is the main reason why a lot of deals are being struck quietly behind closed doors before the proverbial shit hits the fan.

If Copyright law stands as it is, where creators own copyright from the moment of creation, any freelancer who did not sign a declaration of work for hire and was not actually defined as an employee of the company currently holding the copyright could terminate rights of use of their contribution to the work. Anything published after 1975 is currently fair game for future reversions.

Using comics as an example, say I am a letterer of an independent comic of the 1980’s and I was paid to letter a comic by the author or the publisher but as a freelancer and had no signed agreement  that this was exclusively considered Work for Hire. According to copyright law can’t I consider that I am the “author” of the lettering on that comic and copyright holder from the time I penned it to the paper? If I decide I want to revert my rights by terminating the rights of the current holder, can I? If I can revert my rights, any reprint would require new lettering to replace mine or a new deal would need to be struck with me for a new term. Imagine if the Inker or the colorist did the same. This could prevent a work from being republished and it could create havoc for current publishers holding reprint rights.

Imagine if this happens in film where creators from many disciplines come together as freelancers to create a movie. It may sound far fetched but this is the backbone of this revival of the Orphan Works Copyright Act of 2008. It in theory seeks to make works accessible that are unable to be recopied into digital format by Libraries and Schools because copyright permission cannot be obtained by creators that cannot be located.

The argument is that  our culture is being deprived of accessibility to works because of the inadequacies of the copyright law which intends, in part, to restrict perpetual ownership of works so they can be absorbed by the culture that supported and inspired it. This is the reason that the new law intends to have copyrights registered, to enable identifying creators but I bet it will also redefine the Work for Hire clause to prevent the mass migration of rights from corporations to creators. This is a  classic case of misdirection that speculates  most freelancers will not be aware or willing to pay to register copyrights on every work they did thirty-five years ago under a questionable Work for Hire situation, sweeping one big elephant under the rug.

Copyright law has three significant objectives: Identify the copyright holder,  protect the rights of the copyright holder for the term of their copyright and limit terms of copyrights so works can ultimately be absorbed by the society that cultivated it.

I believe it is fair to say that the current copyright law has some inadequacies, mostly in regard to how staggeringly unenforceable it is at its most basic level. Policing every infringement on a daily basis would be impossible and if it were we would not want to live under those conditions. But for those of us that rely on the value of our works and their copyright for our income, it is time to be attentive to how we may be affected by changes and become involved with how a new law is constructed.

Is it time to hit the panic button? Maybe not, but it is time to get educated about copyright and to ensure that any new copyright law benefits everyone fairly.

© 2015 Gerry Giovinco (just in case)

Marvel/Disney Erasing History

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Marvel/Disney is waging a licensing war with Fox over the Fantastic Four and X-Men properties. Marvel sold the film rights for the characters and their supporting casts to Fox back in the 1990′s when they were struggling with bankruptcy. Since then Marvel has moved on to bigger and better things including joining the ranks of Disney and becoming a film blockbuster builder themselves.

Now they want their toys back and Fox is not parting with them and are unwilling to share like Sony has with the Spider-Man franchise.

Marvel’s answer is a self-imposed embargo that blocks any and all licensors from using the characters associated with Fox’s film rights. Sounds like a brilliant strategy!  Marvel will defeat Fox through attrition by preventing as much external awareness of the properties as possible.

In-house, they have also cancelled the Fantastic Four comic book  and killed-off Wolverine, the most popular X-Man. They have even gone so far as replacing the characters on graphics from famous covers and removing them from Marvel Universe posters and 75th Anniversary trading cards. They are systematically erasing anything to do with the properties as if they never existed.

This decree, reportedly issued by Ike Perlmutter, is so obsessive it is becoming perverse in its resemblance to Holocaust denial, a conspiracy theory  considered an act of antisemitism that is illegal in several countries. Like Marvel erasing mutants,  Holocaust deniers will go to great extremes to convince people that the Holocaust never happened. Their goal, like Marvel’s,  is to revise history to suit their agenda.

It is ironic that the mutants which compose the X-Men have long been a symbol of marginalized people and have often been equated with the Jews in the Holocaust. The mutants have been the champions of those that are different in the Marvel Universe. They have fought the good fight to be accepted and in their success have attracted fans world-wide who could empathize with their struggles and achievements.

Yet now, to satisfy the agenda of a corporation, these mutants, along with the Fantastic Four, a team that is the keystone of the Marvel Universe, are being eradicated, replaced by a new, more acceptable breed of heroes called Inhumans and an assortment of other “B” list characters.

Marvel/Disney is becoming our worst nightmare, an oligarchy that is willing to erase a mythology that has had a tremendous impact on our popular culture and specific marginalized communities that have embraced its message of inclusion and tolerance. They are manipulating history for no other reason than to effect their bottom line but at our culture’s expense.

Marvel’s property embargo  is a brilliant tactic but a disgrace to a humanity that has accepted these mutants and heroes as our own. It is just another gross example of how willing corporations like Marvel/Disney are to  manipulate us for their own gain. Congratulations Marvel! You are officially Disneyfied.

Gerry Giovinco

Misguided Girl Power

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

There is a revolution going on and its objective seems to be about empowering little girls. Is it really an attempt, however, to redefine the personal interests and tastes of young ladies to meet the criterion of a particular marketing agenda?

Disney, for example has been actively distancing it’s princess characters from their “damsel in distress” stereotype. Recent animated films like Frozen, Brave, and Tangled along with live action versions of Maleficent and Cinderella actively seek to portray strong female characters that exemplify bravery, courage, strength and conviction. Are their efforts more about empowering young girls or corralling, back into the fold, those that are showing interest in the strong female characters that have been popping up in superhero films?

Marvels cinematic girl power

When Disney purchased Marvel in 2009 they gained a huge library of superhero characters, many of which were dominant females. The current success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has already propelled a number of these strong women characters into the forefront. Black Widow, Lady Sif, Gamora, Nebula, Scarlet Witch, Agent Peggy Carter,  Pepper Potts, Maria Hill, Melinda May, Daisy (Skye) Johnson, and others have all proven their ability to more than hang with the male characters. They are all powerful and independent women that have proven they can take care of themselves. Do not expect to find dolls, costumes,  toys or any other merchandise depicting them, however, because they will not appeal to the boys that the superhero market is deemed to be intended for.

The girls of Big Hero 6

One merchandising company’s response to a mother in search of girl characters from Big Hero 6 for her daughters says it all:

Hi Veronica,

Thanks for your email! Here is a little background on how we develop our designs.  When designing for a new film, we are developing well before the film is released and long before we have seen the movies ourselves.  Thus, we rely on the filmmakers to provide a recommended target audience.  Disney’s target audience for Big Hero 6 is boys 5-12 and secondary are girls 5-12 and teens.  Since this is geared toward boys, we chose to focus either on the main characters (in this case Baymax and Hiro), or on just the boy characters.  We have found boys do not want girl characters on their things (eeeww girls! Yuck! Haha). Should Big Hero 6 continue to resonate in the market place I think you will begin to see more product and even fabric with all the characters including the female characters.

I hope this helps explain why you might see product this way. We enjoy hearing feedback like this. So please, continue to do so.

Best regards,

Emily Robbins Kelly

Licensing Manager

Springs Creative Products Group, LLC”

This marketing ideology goes both ways and though we would love to believe that the intent of strong characters marketed to our youth, both male and female,  is to empower our children as they develop strong personal identities, they are more likely being used to define and manipulate a specific demographic to market to.

Disney of course is the master of marketing but the House the Mouse Built has established a model of success that is frequently emulated.

So here comes DC/Warner Brothers with an attempt at cornering a superhero market targeted at little girls ages 6-12 in hopes of competing with the princesses that have owned the market since the new millennium.

DC Super Hero Girls focuses on the female superheroes and super villains of the DC comic book universe while they are young teens that are relatable to the intended audience. Iconic characterts like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Bumble Bee, Poison Ivy, Katana and others will grow as young women discovering their full super-power potential.

DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson says it all with this statement:

“DC Entertainment is home to the most iconic and well-known superheroes including Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Batgirl, DC Super Hero Girls represents the embodiment of our long-term strategy to harness the power of our diverse female characters. I am so pleased that we are able to offer relatable and strong role models in a unique way, just for girls.”

Just for girls.

This is from the president of one of the largest companies in an industry that is screaming for comics to be inclusive and diverse!

Is it not possible to create a product that appeals to a demographic like young girls without being exclusionary? Didn’t Nelson herself do that when she oversaw the marketing of Warner Brothers’  Harry Potter franchise?

And then there is the other problem. The featured characters have been icons in a market that has been dominated by boys and men  for decades. They have been sexualized, objectified, tortured, and even raped in comic books. Are these the characters we want our six-year-old daughters to identify with?  Sure, these will not be the stories that will be exposed to in the “just for girls” club, but what happens when the young, new converts look across the aisle at Wonder Woman in a titillating “broke-back” pose or see Batgirl in bondage, or Harley Quinn in a maniacally bloody rage on the cover of another comic in the local comic shop How do we explain the sexy pinups of those strong female role models when our daughters want to go to a comic con? How do we prevent the stand-off when feminists and sexists clash, as they continue to, over images such as the sexy covers parodied by Frank Cho?

This is why corporations protect their trademarks. Their value lies in their broad appeal which is preserved by avoiding being offensive in general. The best trademarks appeal to everyone and you only have to look as far as Mickey Mouse for a stellar example. Nobody messes with Mickey!  But DC has tarnished their trademarks from the inside out, focusing  primarily on the interests of an audience of young to middle age men.  The characters that DC is now trotting out for little girls may have been meant for young readers forty or fifty years ago but have long grown away from being suitable for that audience. It will be  like making Betty Page comics for little girls. She can be drawn wholesomely and have wonderful, empowering  adventures but what happens when the girls discover that Betty grows to be a pinup queen with a troubled life that led her into exile?

DC has a lot of work to do. They either need to clean up their house and redefine the integrity of their trademarks or create new iconic characters that are suitable for the intended audience. If they want to empower little girls, allow them to feel included instead of separated. “Just for girls” is no better than “back of the bus.” Why can’t we all be able to pick up a comic, enjoy a cartoon, or play with a toy and enjoy it because we like it, not because some corporation told us we should?

Because target markets make it easy to sell product. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Girls can like superheroes, that doesn’t mean that they need to see men or women in comics be subjugated.

Boys can like princesses, that doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate a strong male or female character. When our culture strives to empower each other equally and as individuals. Not how we or some corporate marketer thinks they should be. That’ is s when we will all be superheroes and it won’t matter who likes pink or blue.

This is not to say that there can not be all kinds of comics and all kinds of superheroes. Walk into a book store or a library and you will find sections dedicated to personal interest, appropriate age group or subject matter. Comics and characters need to be better defined in a similar way so that audiences can identify them and easily determine what appeals to their personal interest or maturity level. Marvel did this successfully with their release of Daredevil on Netflix, a platform that allowed for a more violent and mature content, a far cry from the PG-13 Avengers fare that will appear across the board in media and merchandise. Daredevil will also not be popping up on party plates and kiddie underwear and nowhere did Daredevil show runners describe the series as “Just for Men.”

Gerry Giovinco

Vocal Minority vs Silent Minority in Comics

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

The so-called “vocal minority” in comics has been getting a lot of attention lately due to reactions generated by Raphael Albuquerque’s request to pull his controversial variant cover for Batgirl #41 and  Image co-founder Eric Larson’s criticism of the newly designed Wonder Woman costume.

To be clear, the term “vocal minority” today’s current comic speak for  the voice of feminists and their supporters who rally against sexual exploitation and violence against women in comics.

In the case of Albuquerque’s cover, the artist responded to threats of violence made towards critics of the cover. He respected and agreed with the concerns of the “vocal minority” that felt the image strongly implied rape and was not consistent with the current direction of the current Batgirl story line. DC honored his request and replaced the cover with a more appropriate variant.

Regarding, Erik Larsen,  well, he just had a meltdown. He  lambasted the big two on twitter for “placating a vocal minority at the expense of the paying audience by making more practical women outfits.”

Janelle Asselin did a nice piece on the subject that should be read at Comics Alliance. Her conclusion that the comics industry is changing and fans and pros that have perpetuated a sexualized  and violent comic market for decades need to realize that the industry is not just about them any more should be applauded for the sole purpose of pointing out that for too long the industry has been dictated by a  “silent minority.”

This group’s  intentions for publishing comic books over the last few decades is a lot different than what had gone before.

Many of the iconic comic characters that we enjoy today were created at a time when it was necessary to appeal to the widest audience possible. For this reason and later for the approval of the Comics Code Authority, comic publishers went out of their way to create wholesome, unoffensive characters with broad appeal. I was just good business for the market at the time.

The costumes worn by superheroes were designed to emulate the exotic and powerful costumes of circus entertainers that inspired the imaginations of the young and old alike. The capes, tights and body suits  came from strongmen, acrobats, aerialists and dancers because it was their costumes that the public equated with what was powerful  and  fantastic.

They were simple and much more innocent times.

The characters became powerful trademarks recognizable by people around the world. They were licensed and merchandised to promote tons of product all on the strength of the characters recognizability and good will.

The image of superhero on a product stood for “Truth Justice, and the American Way.”

This all changed in the late 1980′s and 1990′s. Comic book sales became relegated strictly to comic shops and the Comic Code lost its authority. A new crowd took over the reigns at the publishing houses. Comics were no longer being made for the largest audience. They were being made to appeal to a finite group of like-minded, adult, male fans and creators who wanted their comics mature, violent and sexual. This “silent minority” assumed the market and would control it entirely today if it were not for the success of Manga in American bookstores and the purchase of Marvel by Disney.

Manga with its attention to wide subject matter, strong character relationships and dominant female characters attracted women readers and eventually drove them into the comic shops shaking up the boys club that proliferates there.

Disney, with their solid focus on branding has capitalized on their merchandising machine and made Marvel characters household names like never before. The appeal of the superhero has not been this great since World War ll.

But DC continues to tarnish their established trademarks from the inside-out finding new ways to offend and alienate a wider market that includes women that respect themselves and a youth market that is not ready for stories about sex, rape, extreme violence and vulgar language.

The new fans are not discovering what they expect when they walk into comic shops because comic books have changed.

Our culture assumes that superheroes are for everyone. We like to consider them our modern mythology. Like it or not, this is what they have become. When they are used as a tool for exclusion, misogyny, or racism it should be expected that a discussion will occur. One that should remain peaceful and dignified. Anyone that invokes the use of violence to prove their point should not be tolerated.

Let’s be civilized.

Superheroes are just a small part of the ever growing comics industry. There is plenty of room for comics and graphic novels to be created to appeal to every minority group out there no matter how silent or vocal they are. But we will all be best served if the publishers, creators and fans encourage the creation of new characters to drive those stories so the old characters can retain the ideals intended by their original creators.

You see, I am a member of another minority. One that remembers when comics were fun colorful and exciting. The good guy always won. The women were beautiful and their clothes stayed on. I don’t remember cringing at violence because it was never extreme and I never worried about being offended by reading a story about my favorite character. I would like to see those characters that I grew up with, remain the pure icons that they were. But it is already too late. If I want to read those comics I have to pick up an omnibus collection.

Alan Moore did it right when he created the Watchmen. He gave us something new for a more mature audience without corrupting  classic characters.

And then he wrote The Killing Joke where Batgirl was stripped, mutilated, and permanently disabled which has now led us to the furor over Albuquerque’s cover.

Where is Yvonne Craig when we need her?

Gerry Giovinco

Sony Offers Marvel an Alternate Universe Spun by Spider-Man

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Just weeks after I speculated that Marvel’s destruction of their known universe and it’s various realities in the upcoming Secret Wars event could lead to a homogenous structure that would fit neatly into the marketing strategy of their parent company, Disney, a new web has been spun.

It has long been rumored and anticipated the at Marvel’s masthead character, Spider-Man would be finally joining the ranks of the uber successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. The hold-up was that Sony owned the exclusive film rights to the character and it would require some heavy negotiation to pull it off. After some industrial hacking, corporate upheaval and a disappointing attempt to reboot the Spider-Man franchise, Sony and Marvel have established a new relationship regarding ol’ Web-Head.

According to the deal, Marvel can now use Spider-Man in future films alongside all of their other famous characters just as he does in the comic books. More interestingly, they are exploring opportunities to integrate characters from the MCU into Sony’s Spider-Man films!

What does this mean?

Marvel has been making cinematic history by building a universe that ties the continuity of all of their films, television and Netflix series all together into a neat, orderly package.

Sony, on the other hand has been tinkering with various realities related to Spider-Man that have introduced different origins, relationships, actors and villains to a mixed reaction among audiences.

Long-time fans of Marvel comics know that over the last seventy-five years, there have been a lot of changes made to most of the characters and various generations of readers have personal attachments to “their” universe. Basically, today’s Spider-Man is not your parent’s Spider-Man.

This is a problem for Marvel because, as diligent they are about building a cohesive MCU that will stand the test of time and establish a specific cannon, they will inevitably alienate some portion of their audience who may miss their beloved version of a character.

Sony’s Spider-Man franchise can become their escape valve for alternate universes that will allow these variants to come alive on film with the friendly, neighborhood, web-slinger as the conduit.

A solid, friendly relationship between Marvel and Sony will give audiences an opportunity to explore all of the potential options of the multitude of characters in the Marvel Universe and all of its various realities while also establishing a solid core universe built around the MCU that will dictate the long term marketing strategy of Marvel/Disney.

It is a win-win situation for everyone. Marvel and Sony both have a full roster to work with and fans can have the best of all worlds that will appropriately be linked by an intricate web that only Spidey could weave.

Now, if only 20th Century Fox would wise up and join the party…

Gerry Giovinco

Secret Wars: The Disneyfication of Marvel

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

In case you have not heard, the Marvel Universe as the world has known it since 1961 is ending. Why not? Death sells. So knock off the whole thing and reboot from scratch. The idea is so original they are calling the event “Secret Wars,” like that was never used before.

The scary thing is that, as much as this smacks of the usual mockery of fan’s intelligence perpetrated by DC Comics, this all makes perfect sense if you have stock in Disney, Marvel’s parent company.

Amazingly it has taken six years for this to happen but Marvel is finally on the verge of being Disneyfied.

What could be more Disney than uniformity? The House of the Mouse is the master of the style guide. Homogeny is the backbone of their marketing genius. Marvel however, though it has a particular identity recognized only by a specific subculture who understand the nuances of the superhero genre, is a mish-mash of styles and continuity that requires a doctorate in nerdgasm to fully grasp.

The development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done a wonderful job of solidifying the continuity of a core group of characters for the masses. Now is the time to pull in the rest of the properties and neatly align them so they all make sense to the common folk. Enter Secret Wars where all realities collide and are rearranged into one neat package.

Secret Wars comes complete with a color coded map of the new world that all the Marvel characters will exist in and is named “Battleworld.” It is eerily reminiscent of early maps of the Magic Kingdom in “Disney World.” Could it possibly be the foretelling of a Super theme park west of the Mississippi? Check those land acquisitions in the Navada Desert. More likely is it just mind soap to guide us subliminally into their marketing mouse hole.

And what about that re-use of the Secret Wars name? Does it play into giant marketing scheme to tie in all of Disney’s major properties together under one neat umbrella?

Secret Wars,  Star Wars VII , Captain America: Civil War, Star Wars VIII , Avengers: Infinity War 1,  Avengers: Infinity War 2, and Star Wars IX are all released consecutively over the next five years.

That is a lot of “War” titles all being calcified by a Disney owned video game called “Infinity” (imagine that) that allows players to interact with figurines from all of Disney’s properties  including Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. An entire generation will unwittingly galvanize the new Disney Empire of properties into a single mega universe.

By 2020 all things Marvel and Star Wars will be “infinitely” as Disney as Donald Duck and Goofy!

A reimagining of the Marvel Universe does one more important thing. It redefines characters that are more than half way to a date with public domain. By 2020 a significant number of major Marvel character’s origin copyrights will be due to expire in less than forty years. New origins will update the characters with current audiences and extend the copyright of the new origin 95 years!

Oh, and if you think Marvel an Disney won’t be putting the screws to Fox during all of this, think again. Expect to see familiar mutants suddenly becoming transcended Inhumans and the Fantastic Four innocuously bottled up till Fox finally caves in on their deal.  New continuity can take all of those Fox held characters right out of the timeline with no argument and completely derail their profitability as film franchises.

The Emperor rules the Universe and the Emperor is a mouse.

Gerry Giovinco

Remember When Comics Smelled Like…Pot?!

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Remember when comics smelled like newsprint?

Not anymore!

If you haven’t heard, DC Comics plans to publish a Harley Quinn comic book that smells like cannabis. It’s true! You can read the story here.

What the hell are they thinking?!

I will never understand the marketing geniuses at DC Comics and their complete disregard for the respected value of their intellectual property.  When is their parent company, Warner Bros. Entertainment, going to reign those idiots in?

Without getting into a deep discussion about comics now appealing to a more mature audience than those that many of us grew up with, let me remind everyone that DC Comics and all of their characters represent a significant brand that is largely responsible for Warner Brothers Consumer Products being the fifth largest global licensor. They lag not far behind number one, Disney, who has been bolstered greatly by their  acquisition of Marvel and Star Wars and who will probably remain top dog forever.

When will DC understand that the strength and value of a company’s intellectual property is based solely on the public’s perceived value of that brand.

Forbes describes it this way{

“Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.  It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic).  Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it.  It’s fixed.  But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.”

Entrepreneur says:

“Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.”

Both of these well informed marketing resources feel that the concept of branding can be “simply” defined, yet DC and Warner Bros. apparently have no clue or they wouldn’t be intentionally making and promoting comic books that smell like pot!

DC’s characters have achieved their brand value over their seventy plus year history based on a universal appeal of what the general population considers wholesome, heroic characters. This is why their images are available on everything from baby toys to shot glasses, They are safe (socially innocent) and have wide appeal.

What is the theory behind potentially damaging that brand by associating it with cannabis,  an illegal  Schedule 1 substance under US federal law?  Are they just daring a Dr. Wertham wannabe to stir up another witch-hunt on comics or the superhero genre all for the sake of a publicity gimmick?

Could you imagine Disney making or licensing any product  that intentionally smelled like pot?

“Get your Pocahontas Peace Pipe with realistic cannabis smell!”

Just wrong on so many levels!

Disney famously and aggressively brought down The Air Pirates for publishing an underground  parody comic where their characters imbibed in the weed and other nefarious deeds! They go after everyone, big and small mercilessly to protect their brand under all circumstances.

Just ask Deadmau5.

Only porn companies seem to be immune from big entertainment companies like Disney and Warner Bros., but there has to be more to that story.

Protecting a brand and its public perception is paramount to most large corporations. This is why we often hear of sports stars and actors losing endorsement deals because they did something stupid or illegal.

Even NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodel, one of the most powerful men in professional sports, has come under fire for his mishandling of the recent Ray Rice domestic violence case.

Companies are pulling endorsements left and right from NFL teams for public backlash stemming from ongoing disclosure of similar instances and many are asking for Goodel’s resignation.

By those standards some jackass at DC should be out of a job already.

DC has been treading on thin ice for years now, slowly chipping away at the shiny veneer of beloved characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman,  trading them in for a darker, grittier, more sinister fare.

Will the cannabis scented comic book finally be the tipping point? I doubt it, but they are seriously pressing their luck.

What’s next? Micro dot variants?

Don’t be surprised if the Comic Code Authority gets reinstated over this one.

We will all have DC to thank.

Gerry Giovinco



Trademark Deadmau5 Trap

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Joel Thomas Zimmerman, the EDM DJ/musician best known as Deadmau5,  has just encountered the world’s best mouse trap: U.S. Trademark Law.

Nobody keeps the mice away better than the Disney corporation when it comes to protecting their trademarks especially when it comes to defending Mickey Mouse and that famous pair of ears.

Canadian born Zimmerman, whose stage schtick includes performing in an oversized, robotic looking mouse head,  has flown under Disney’s litigious radar for the last decade, successfully trademarking a graphic of his mouse head in countries throughout the world. Now that he is attempting to register his trademark in America, Disney is challenging the mark claiming that it is too similar to their iconic symbol and may cause them harm by confusing consumers.

The trap is triggered, but does Zimmerman get out a Deadmau5 or a live one?

Some will argue that Disney has no basis in their contention. Deadmau5 poses no competition for Disney big focused on different markets. Deadmau5 can be interpreted as a parody and protected by fair use laws. The Deadmau5 logo is different enough. A nice piece in the Daily Trojan titled “Disney’s legal battle with Deadmau5 has no basis” does a good job defending the argument.

But when it comes to copyright or trademark issues, the solution is never that simple.

The problem with U.S. Trademark law is that the advantage is almost always on the side of the big guy. Why? Because it requires a trademark to be continuously defended or risk losing it. Unless you have deep pockets like Disney, who can aggressively afford to go after  every potential infringer?

Should a trademark be challenged for any trivial reason by a giant corporation like Disney who can drag you through the courts endlessly in a legal battle that will exhaust all of your financial resources. Your attempt to trademark is doomed because you will be bankrupt before a judge ever tries your case. Most settle or give up. Those that don’t usually end up as a bloodied “example.”

This system assumes that the public is too ignorant to recognize distinguishable differences in any graphic or other form of trademark. It is compounded by companies that manipulate their trademark constantly to intentionally blur the line. This is why a simple graphic like Disney’s Mouse Silhouette or DC’s Batman logo, #6 is presented in so many different ways including shapes and colors. It is now impossible to to create a simple mouse or bat logo without incurring retribution.

This has cost pop culture some great works over the years. Among the many casualties, Captain Marvel was crushed for his supposed similarities to Superman, and Howard the Duck was never the same after Disney challenged him compared to Donald Duck. These were innovative and dynamic characters that had their feet swept out from under them in their prime because of the trademark trap.

Imagine what the world would be like if Pat Sullivan, the producer of Felix the Cat, would have challenged Disney’s trademark, siting that Mickey Mouse was so similar and heavily influenced by the famous feline who had predated Mickey on film by nine years and was, at the time, the first and most successful cartoon character of the era. It was an image of Felix, after all, that was the first cartoon character star of television.

Imagine a world with no Mickey Mouse and possibly no Disney. Mickey Mouse  managed to escape the trademark trap and, in doing so, ensured that nobody else would get out alive.

Deadmaus, however, may have a leg to stand on because Disney has not been a good little mouse either. Zimmerman has countered with a copyright infringement allegation, claiming that Disney used his 2009 hit “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” without his permission and payed no fee for the use of it. Disney claims otherwise but has yet to prove it.

This could be a life or death struggle for the career of Zimmerman. According to Billboard,  the battle has already “cost him dearly”
A victory for Deadmau5 would give a lot of little guys hope, but not everyone is ready to chew off a leg to get out of a trap.

Good luck Deadmou5, I hope your stage name is not your prophecy but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Gerry Giovinco



Super Hero September is Great for Comic Books

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

I have been waiting for decades for Marvel and DC to step up to the plate and aggressively promote comic books.  Not just movies, toys and merchandise featuring their characters, but comic books. That is, after all, what they do right? Make comic books?

In 2011 DC surprised me with their promotion of the New 52. It was a huge promotional campaign across all media but was unfortunately  more focused on the derailment of their iconic characters’ established identity in popular culture as they redefined them for a changing market. Ever since, DC has made one marketing blunder after another to the point where there is even a site that tracks the number of days since DC did something stupid.

Their efforts, no matter how misguided, did generate interest and drive new people into comic book shops though I believe it frustrated long time fans by bastardizing the characters that they had loved for decades.

One thing DC did, according to the Hollywood Reporter, was establish September as a promotional battleground that has now instigated a devastating counterattack of heroic proportions by Marvel/Disney.

September is now Marvel Super Hero September  encouraging fans to “Power up like a Marvel Super Hero!”

Lately, after a very respective run of hugely successful films that have ecstatically (unlike DC) maintained the integrity of their long standing source material, Marvel can do no wrong. Combined with the added resource of the Disney Marketing Machine, Marvel is now a pop culture juggernaut. (FOX pun intended).

A visit to the Super Hero September web page is evidence of the things that Marvel is currently doing right in this marketing campaign.

1. Masthead includes mega blockbuster characters from all of their hit films, carefully spotlighting a couple of female characters and their new successful franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy. (Note: no X-Men!)

2. They offer a contest that promotes their brand, establishes the good morals that we all expect from our favorite superheroes, builds a mailing list and offers a great prize: a trip on a Disney Cruise ship. (How many times can you promote a corporate product in one sentence?)

3. Impressive list of retail partners that includes: Hasbro, Kmart, Party City, Payless, Target, Walmart, Hallmark,Disney Store and their own on line Marvel Shop.

4. Comic books! My initial, jaded scan of the site seemed to confirm my suspicion that, once again comic books, would be overlooked by an eager attempt to sell toys and movies but to my surprise I easily found several links to available comic books throughout!

5. Comics for Kids! This has been a peeve of many that comics have matured leaving little for the youth market. Marvel tackles this head on with a line for young readers with comics available digitally and it print.

6. Links to comic shops!  Again I suspected that comic shops would play no fiddle to the big chains but in most places on the site where comics are presented in print there is a big fat link to the Comic Shop Locator Service!

7. Sharing. There is a relatively subtle button that seems redundant to the marvelkids.com button in that it sells young reader books, but on the surface it brilliantly commands, “Share Your Universe.”  This statement does two wonderful things that every brand craves for. It hands “ownership” of the brand to the fan and it tells them it is worth sharing, “you do not need to be alone in your enjoyment of this brand.”

There is so much more that is positive about what Marvel is doing with this campaign including promoting it on Disney owned ESPN in the height of football season that a book could probably be written on the marketing strategies involved.

This is obviously a big win for Marvel but it could be a huge win for the comic book industry in general.  Comic books are being promoted on a global scale in a positive light for the first time ever. This is not an event like the death of a character, this is a brand-wide promotion. It is time to ride the wave and make sure that everyone in comics benefits from the traffic that Marvel will continue generate.

Comic shops have shown their ability to grow where traditional bookshops have been failing. They need to prepare to further capitalize on the success that Marvel is generating by directing the broadening audience to the wide selection of subject matter made available by indy publishers. The consumers may be coming in for Marvel superheroes but they can discover a much broader world than they expected, the world of comic books if those in the industry choose to show them the way.

When it comes to comic books, let September be for super heroes just leave the rest of the year for everyone else. Thanks, Marvel!  Maybe DC will learn something.

Gerry Giovinco



Is Stan Lee the Key to a Kirby Family Victory?

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

On May 15, nine Justices will decide wether the Supreme Court will preside over the Kirby family’s battle to regain copyrights from Marvel and Disney of works co-created by their father, Jack Kirby between the years of 1958 and 1963.

According to the Copyright Act of 1976 the Kirby Estate has the right to request termination of these works provided that the works were not executed as “works for hire,” a term normally associated with work created by an employee of a company.

To date, lower courts have ruled that the works, which include seminal characters that represent the foundation of Marvel’s entire universe, were created at the expense of the corporation and thus are considered work for hire.

Convincing the highest court in the land to both hear the case and to rule in favor of the Kirby Estate may require a miracle of epic proportions equivalent to the great feats of the  many superheroes derived from Jack Kirby’s fertile imagination.

The most unlikely and unwitting hero of this legal drama, however, might actually be Stan Lee who stood as Kirby’s collaborator on all of these creations with the exception of Captain America who Jack created with Joe Simon in 1941.

The idea that Stan the Man, Marvel’s biggest cheerleader, could possibly help the Kirby case may seem ludicrous at first but it was by his hand that a cosmic ball could possibly have been set in motion. His formulation of the so-called “Marvel Method” of producing comics where he would suggest an idea to the artist who would then visually plot an entire story that Stan would later script  the dialogue for could undo the work for hire strategy at its root.

This method of creating comics was new and unique to Marvel and was far from consistent with industry practice at the time where a full script would be handed in by the writer for the penciler to follow. Writers were paid to write. Pencilers were paid to draw.

Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko

It is well documented that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, the earliest participants with Lee of this industry bucking practice, were unhappy that Lee was paid full writing fees and they only received standard penciling fees for their work. They both felt that they should be paid and credited for their share of the writing since they were essentially plotting the entire story, a standard duty of the writer.  Their dissatisfaction with the inequities of the practice ultimately led them both to leave Marvel in protest.

Jack’s duties as a penciler were above and beyond what was considered industry standard at the time. As one of the most prolific pencilers of the era he easily deserved at least the standard page rate he was paid for traditional penciling that did not require the visual plotting unaided by a script. He should have been paid more for the extra work required by the “Marvel Method” but he was not.

If Jack Kirby was not paid for his contribution to the writing of the stories, even though it was rendered visually, how can his contribution be considered work for hire?

Stan Lee has very publicly and proudly described the Marvel Method for decades as part of their formula for success. Lee certainly was not paid less for the work load of the writing chores that he passed to the penciler.

Stan Lee is also a poster child for negotiating a Marvel settlement for his role in creating the Marvel Universe. If Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are equally responsible for creating most of the successful characters at Marvel, how can it be justified that Lee can file a suit that results in a reported $10 million settlement back in 2005 long before the company was sold to Disney for $4.6 billion in 2009? Will the Supreme Court recognize the injustice of one co creator being compensated while the other is not?

Marvel, itself, has obvious doubts about the work for hire relationship it pretends to command over its creators. Lee’s  is not the only settlement they have negotiated going back as far as Joe Simon for Captain America, Steve Gerber for Howard the Duck and a growing list of creators that are settling quietly as the Marvel cinematic universe now grows into a global phenomenon.

No other creator has been signaled out and treated as significant a threat to Marvel as Jack Kirby. He alone was subjected to restrictive contracts regarding his existing work for the company. He alone was forced to sign restrictive agreements just for  the return of his own original art. If Marvel was so sure of its work for hire relationship with him why were they so contentious with him late in his career before his death? Why did they fear Jack Kirby?

The Supreme Court now has an opportunity to finally and fairly define the work for hire relationship as it pertains to the comic book industry regarding properties that were created in the Silver Age and are now becoming eligible for . Hopefully they will realize that properties that were created for meager wages at a time when comic book sales were weakened by a federal witch hunt are now worth an obscene amount of money that could have never been anticipated by the original creators.

Many of the creators who are still  alive and struggling in the twilight of their lives could benefit immensely from any fair compensation that relates to the current value of their creations. For those that have passed away, like Jack Kirby, it would be comforting to their families if their lives in today’s economy could be eased by that which they should rightly inherit.

If you enjoyed comics because you believed that the heroes fought for what was right, now is the time to hope and pray that the Supreme Court will insure that justice is served for those that created the heroes we enjoyed. Collectively support Jack Kirby’s family with well wishes and maybe a miracle will happen.

This can be a great comic book story where justice triumphs once again. If the Supreme Court decides to hear this case it is a sure bet that Marvel will beg the Kirby Estate to reach a settlement, hopefully with an agreement similar the one that Prince just received from Warner Brothers Records, where the work remains in current hands but compensation and control are renegotiated. It would be a win-win situation for all sides especially for the fans who all want this story to have a happy ending befitting of the greatest superheroes of all time. A story of epic proportions that would make both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee proud.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco




© 2009-2015 CO2 COMICS All Rights Reserved. All other material © their respective creators & companies