Posts Tagged ‘public domain’

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)

The DC Comics Double-Cross

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

If you have any interest at all in creator rights in the comic book industry or even just an appreciation for how big business finds new ways to screw over the little guy then this diatribe by legendary comic book writer Gerry Conway is a must read!

Who created Caitlin Snow on #TheFlash? According to @DCComics, nobody.

To briefly summarize it Gerry outlines how, at one time, DC under the guidance  of publisher Paul Levitz initiated a program called “creator equity participation” which allowed for creators to be compensated when their characters were used in other media. This was viewed a small victory in the long battle for creator rights that is as old as the industry.

In recent years since Paul Levitz has left DC and Diane Nelson has taken over as President of DC Entertainment, this program has been bastardized, first by defining some characters as “derivative” thus no longer deserving of remuneration and then by requiring that creators assume the responsibility of asking in advance for equity request contracts as DC will not pay retroactively if the papers are not filed. Gerry described this circle-jerk when he reached out for fan support with his institution of the Comics Equity Project.

Now DC has revealed new technique for double-crossing its creators. It’s called the reboot. Like the New 52? Enjoying Convergence? Isn’t it interesting how the characters origins, costumes identities and relationships all subtly or sometimes dramatically change? DC will tell you they are just trying to update characters to reflect the interests of the current market but in reality they are actively blurring the line to guarantee that all iterations of a character can be considered “derivative.”

Caitlin Snow, Jason Todd (Robin), Power Girl, Superboy & Barry Allen

According to Conway some characters can now have nobody attributed to their creation and he sites Caitlin Snow, Jason Todd, Power Girl, Superboy and Barry Allen as just a few examples!

I always expected that reboots like the New 52 were devised as an opportunity to distance the aging iconic characters from impending copyright revision suits or exposure to public domain but never did I imagine that reboots were so nefarious that they would so aggressively undermine all of the accomplishments of the creators rights movement simply to avoid paying  miniscule royalties on generally peripheral characters.

How bad is it when a company like Time Warner, who’s first quarter revenue this year was just reported as $7.1 billion, has to nickel-and-dime lowly comic creators with unkept promises? CEO, Jeff Bewkes clears a modest $32 million annually so I guess there is just not enough cash to trickle down to the bottom-feeding comic book pros.

I wonder if Diane Nelson is wearing any Prada these days?

And what about DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee? Didn’t he co-found Image, one of the most successful independent comics publishing houses, that has long been the bastion creator rights? I guess he has gone to the Dark Cide.

This type of reaming is not unique to the comic book industry. It is just another example of big businesses taking advantage of those that built them. It is a crass manipulation of an economic system that deprives workers of decent salaries, benefits, 401K plans, pensions, and just a plain-old, reasonable standard of living while continually filling the growing coffers of the already wealthy.

We like to think that our favorite superheroes instill in us a sense of justice and morality but it is getting much harder to look at that “S” on Superman’s chest and see “a symbol of hope” when it is clear that it is really a Kryptonian dollar sign for big bucks intended for a limited few.

Gerry Giovinco

Shia LaBeouf is Dangerous

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Many of us have watched in amazement as Shia LaBeouf has exposed himself as the pretentious, self-absorbed, entitled, plagiarist that he is ever since he has been publicly called out for his direct swipe of Dan Clowes comic Justin M. Damiano which LaBeauf  adapted, uncredited and unauthorized into a short film titled HowardCantour.com.

Further scrutiny has proven that there is little that LaBeouf has ever created that was not lifted from somewhere else. Even his apologies were swiped!

An incriminating list of LaBeouf’s transgressions can be found here.

LaBeouf went on the defensive in this interview with Rich Johnston declaring that, Authorship is Censorship seemingly championing the perspective of Creative Commons.

Now he has gone on the offensive by antagonizing Dan Clowes with more blatant plagiarism of his work.

LaBeouf’s actions are so extreme they reek of publicity stunt and have even been compared to performance art, but could they be something much more subversive?

While he mocks and trivializes plagiarism, piracy and copyright law, infuriating  copyright owners and creators, everywhere he is galvanizing a pro-copyright , anti-piracy sentiment that will empower the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), “a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement.”

The TPP will crush the internet by restricting users’ freedom of speech and right to privacy and due process. It will limit creative innovation by stalling public domain transitions. Worst of all, it is a non-transparent manipulation by corporations to control intellectual property and end users in an effort to protect their own bottom line at the expense of personal and creative freedoms.

Shia LaBeouf is a very public and extreme example of what the TPP wants us all to believe they are protecting against. His actions and words play into their hands every time he is demonized by the press or by any one of us blogging or commenting against him.

It is time to maintain a rational perspective and pay close attention to the ramifications of the TPP. This agreement needs to be shut down the same way SOPA was and for the same reasons. Take the time to learn about and understand copyright law and its history. Learn about the virtues of public domain. Be concerned about your rights as an internet user. Above all maintain,  a perspective of moderation to avoid becoming an irrational extremist like LaBeouf.

Shia LeBeouf is dangerous if his ridiculous antics create an atmosphere that cost us all what we have come to enjoy and use as the greatest tool of expression in the history of the planet: the internet as we know it.  Don’t be fooled! His actions may be “more than meets the eye.”

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 3

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Corporate Greed: There was a time when there was such a thing as the American Dream. It was predicated on the idea that if you worked hard, lived a good life  and saved your money you will achieve success. The American Dream manifested itself  differently in comic books where it was represented in the very beginning of the industry by downtrodden sons of immigrants during the Great Depression. Their vision was that of the meek attaining tremendous powers and using them to protect and serve their community. Their creations, which launched a genre known as superheroes, represented “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”

The recent PBS documentary Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle did a wonderful job bringing attention to these idealistic virtues of superheroes and comic books. What it neglected to do, however,  was show that superheroes of today also represent the continued victimization of their creators and their families and have become the iconic representation of Corporate Greed as the two monolithic media corporations Time/Warner and Disney, the parent companies of DC and Marvel respectively, seek to control, dominate, and protect their intellectual properties. They do this by the use of Draconian creator contracts, militant trademark enforcement of not just their characters but the word superhero itself, and by putting a stranglehold on the markets where other comics are sold and distributed.

This is what I see as the greatest failure of the documentary. That it supposedly represents superheroes as being a significant part of our culture. That superheroes are the modern American mythology. That superheroes represent Truth Justice and the American Way. That Superheroes are everywhere consumed by the imaginations of everyone. The documentary fails because it focuses solely on the superheroes represented by Marvel and DC and consequently  becomes a tool that empowers their domination and control of the entire genre.

Corporations are quickly corralling us all into a culture that is dictated by them. There was a time when culture would influence decisions made by a corporation but now media has such a firm embrace on our cultural psyche that they can manipulate our every whim. As corporations like Time/Warner and Disney seek to control trademark ownership of public domain characters from every fable, myth, legend, story and comic book they have a lock on each and every one of us that goes much deeper than our pocketbook. They control the extent our imaginations and the marketability of our creativity, personally and as a culture.

Superheroes were born from comic books for one reason. No other medium besides comics gives any person the opportunity to create so vividly a story that is so fantastic and so unimaginable about a person with incredible superpowers and their adventures. Comics let us deliver that idea to an audience in a precise and visually stimulating way with very little expense.

Imagine that the images that could be drawn on a page by a poor immigrant teenager with a pencil and ink were so fantastic that it required over forty years of technological development before they could be made believable on film! Today, it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make a superhero action film but a superhero can come alive in a comic for next to nothing. The creator of the next great superhero could be a young kid publishing that story right now for very little cost on the internet, reaching millions of people around the globe in an instant.

That is the power of comics. That is the power of unfettered culture. That is the biggest fear to these big corporations, that the next great superhero will fly right under their nose and take the world by storm and they will not own a piece of it.

So Corporate Greed does what it does best and attempts to create tunnel vision for everyone it can with documentaries like Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle. They create a new mythology that everyone is expected to believe, that the Marvel and DC superheroes are the only game in town.

If they get enough of our attention and enough of our money and can control enough of the distribution system (we are to believe there is only one real comic book distributor) maybe we won’t notice that there is a world of other comics and superheroes out there. Maybe we won’t notice that many are much more entertaining and original than the seventy-five-year-old rehash of Superman or that fifty-year-old not-so-fresh take on Spider-man.

It is our job as true fans of the medium of comics and the genre of superheroes to remain vigilant and to ensure that the wealth of accurate information about what we love is not forgotten because the true archives of the past is the fertile ground from which a fruitful future will spring regardless how much manure is spread on the dried up wasteland of lies that the corporations want us to believe.

Yes the title of the documentary got it right. When it comes to superheroes there is a never ending battle to tell the truth about the comics industry, seek justice for creators, and to not fall victim to corporate greed because what we usually get told in documentaries like this is just a pile of very pretty bullshit that panders to the big guys.

Previous links to my perspective on this documentary can be found here:

SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit

SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 1

SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 2

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Public Domain Held Hostage by TradeMark

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Imagine the ultimate crime: Kidnapping all of the princesses of the world in broad daylight, holding them hostage into perpetuity and being celebrated for the act!

Why stop at princesses? How about targeting every other beloved character that has freely belonged to the cultures of the world?

Finally, for the pièce de résistance, orchestrate a bold, premeditated assault on the greatest superheroes of all time!

The weapon used to perpetrate such a dastardly scheme? Two letters: TM that stand for the term Trademark, a declaration that stakes an exclusive claim to the rights of a character design or symbol for as long as it is declared, registered and successfully defended.

The mastermind and perfecter of this nefarious practice is the all powerful Disney Corporation who has successfully shanghaied at least 93 characters that supposedly enjoy public domain status, 11 of which are princesses that they have so rigidly  redefined in the global public perception that it is nearly impossible to convincingly present them without infringing on Disney’s trademark claim.

But, just in case one may try, Disney has also cleverly created multiple variations of each in animated, live action, and toy incarnations of  every shape and size, all trademarked so it is nearly impossible to create an acceptable variation that could safely and successfully compete in the open market.

Read Copyright Duration and the Mickey Mouse Curve

The tactics required to commandeer public domain properties have not been lost on others, especially the two major comic book publishers, Marvel and DC, who have had the foresight to navigate their properties so as never to be lost to public domain. Extensions in copyright duration have preserved their copyright ownership of most properties created after 1929 for at least another twenty years. But even if single stories should lapse it would be impossible to  promote the story or character without infringing on trademark.

Check out EVOLUTION OF THE BATMAN SYMBOL

DC has proven that it intends to cover every base by having created so many variations of every character to the point of establishing an infinite universe where any variation is a conceivable infringement. They have found more ways just to present the simple Bat Symbol that it is now virtually impossible to illustrate a two dimensional bat without infringing. Likewise, the Shield with the S that represents Superman also has so many variations that its defense is impregnable.

A History of Superman, told in 25 logos over 75 years

Like Disney, DC merchandises their characters in every shape size and color to further protect their trademark.

Marvel of course is now owned by Disney and the merchandizing bonanza has not even begun to ferment.

Make no mistake about it, all these recent reboots in origin stories of major superheroes are merely an attempt to protect characters whose original story is bordering on public domain. A few tweaks for a modern audience and the original material becomes passé and will defy current appreciation for the character.

Attempting to market the product wouldn’t matter anyway because no one could package the story using the trademarked name or image of the main characters attached to the story. How much would you pay for a comic whose cover is not much more ambiguous than a brown paper bag?

TM holds our cultural heritage hostage. Where copyright was intended to prevent monopolies by limiting the time one could exclusively control a creation, trademark hands corporations the keys to the vault.

Soon all our mythology, all our fairy tales, all of our fantasy and fiction will be dictated by a limited, powerful and controlling forces that appear innocuous like the one hiding behind the cute mouse ears. We need to be reminded that usually a big mouse is actually a rat.

Making Comics Because  We Want to

Gerry Giovinco




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