Posts Tagged ‘Warner Brothers’

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



Prince Leads the Charge for the Return of Creator’s Rights

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

According to Billboard, recording artist Prince is ready to  party like it’s 1999 all over again because Warner Brothers Records has returned to him the power to control his music  thanks to revisions made in the Copyright Act of 1976.

The musician that defined Minneapolis sound in the late 1970′s effectively has fired the first, successful, high-profile salvo that should inspire all artists who sold rights to their works to actively pursue termination of those rights within their effective window.

Prince took advantage of a termination clause in the Copyright Act that has generally been overlooked and one that strikes fear in the hearts of big business, especially those in the entertainment world where the stakes are especially high.

How the Act defines transfers of rights is clearly described here:

“With certain exceptions, section 203 provides that transfers executed on or after January 1, 1978 may be terminated 35 years after the date of the grant. Authors must give notice of their intent to terminate not less than two or more than ten years from the intended termination date. Termination of grants made in 1978 could begin, therefore, in 2013, with notices first served in 2003.

An author has a five-year window from the end of the 35-year period of the grant in which to exercise his termination right. If he fails to do so, all the rights covered under the existing grant will continue for the term of the copyright.”

The article continues:

A second termination right, set forth in section 304, applies to transfers executed before January 1, 1978. The 1976 Copyright Act extended the copyright term for pre-1978 works by 19 years. Congress decided that the beneficiary of that 19-year extension should be the author, rather than the assignee of rights in a work.

Congress accomplished this by giving the author (or his heirs as specified in the statute) a right to terminate a pre-1978 transfer of the renewal copyright effective at any time within a five-year period commencing fifty-six years after the copyright had been secured. The author must give notice of his intent to terminate between two and ten years before the effective date of termination.

Corporations do not want to lose the rights to intellectual properties that they have heavily invested in for decades, especially ones that have made them millions of dollars in return. They are anxious to settle on terms that will will benefit both parties rather than lose a property completely.

This is how Prince was able to negotiate control over his music and the return of his masters while Warner Brother Records maintained distribution rights in a win-win situation for both parties.

Prince recognized that even as big a star as he is, he could not generate the revenue with his music that the big label was capable of. Proof of the disparity of this ability can be seen in his album sales since he rebelled as the Artist formerly known as Prince and  struck out on his own in 1991. The purple clad Artist sold 18.5 million albums in the United States according to Billboard’s Soundscan numbers. 14.3 million of which were sold by Warner who accounted for over 77% of the volume.

This is the type of profit friendly sentiment that the corporations are banking on and why we see giant companies like Marvel quietly sneaking to the settlement table to preempt any mass exodus of intellectual property before any litigation makes it to a court room.

The elephant in the room, however, is work-for-hire which designates the corporation as the author and is the key exception to any termination right. There are holes in the work for hire defense though and big companies without iron clad agreements are wary of courts that might favor the little guy.

The battle over what defines the work for hire relationship in comics has been notoriously waged by the Kirby family who, using the same termination clause as Prince, has been attempting to reclaim the late Jack Kirby’s share of key characters that he co-created with Stan Lee between 1958 and 1963. Their attempt to terminate rights which began in 2009 has yet to hurdle repeated pro work for hire rulings and is now being appealed for hearing by the Supreme Court.

Should the Kirby family win or lose, a bonanza is about to begin in the comic book industry in light of Prince’s victory. More creators and lawyers than ever are now aware that any grandfathered property created after 1960 can now be contested, opening the doors to rights termination of at least some Silver Age comic book properties.

Furthermore, any property created between 1981 and 1989 needs to be addressed quickly by creators wanting to take advantage of the current eight year window for termination requests as described earlier.

This is Alan Moore’s perfect opportunity to rescind from DC Comics and Warner Brother’s the rights to his stake in WATCHMEN!

The 1980′s was a prolific era in independent comics and a number of properties exchanged hands from creators to indy publishers some of which were later sold to Marvel and DC. Their work was expressly NOT work for hire! Now is the time for any of those creators to actively seek rights termination or at least renegotiate their terms. Remember that you can always seek council from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Creators, take a stand, get educated and reclaim your rights before it is too late. Be warned that if you miss the window that applies to your work you forfeit the right to reclaim it forever and that is exactly what the big corporations are hoping for.

Now is time for comic creators to choose wether they’d rather be a prince or a pauper.

Follow the lead of Prince who was famously and formerly known as just an artist but who is now the ultimate ruler of his creations. Get your rights back or at least make more money and you can “Party like it’s 1999″ too!

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Creator’s Rights: The Rise of the UNDEAD!

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

For anyone who thought that  the Work for Hire clause, whether it was specified in a contract or stamped on the back of a check, was the final answer regarding creator’s rights; think again!

The battle for creator’s rights is experiencing a ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE of its own as issues once considered dead and buried by corporate gate keepers are raising their hoary heads and experiencing triumph against the devil himself.

Appropriately, Ghost Rider, the supernatural motorcyclist who sold his soul to the devil and consequently bursts into hellfire complete with a flaming skull whenever he encounters evil, has become the latest character championed by the challenge of his creator.

Gary Friedrich settled a deal with Marvel after the Second Court of Appeals decided that the work for hire contract signed in 1978 was ambiguous on the topic of copyright renewal.

His victory has highlighted the fact that there can be hope against what appears to be insurmountable odds especially after Marvel had knocked him down for the count and even won a countersuit against him for trademark violation seeking retribution of $17,000 for monies he made from selling autographed prints of Ghost Rider at comic conventions.

Never give up the fight!

Creator’s rights has been a battle going on in this industry since it began and every time the issue seems dead it claws back from the grave. Jerry Siegle and Joe Shuster were zombies extraordinaire. No creators fought back so frequently and so often reviving dead issues and achieving a number of victories along the way, than these two. Even after their own deaths their family still haunts DC and Warner Brothers with challenges.

The huge popularity of superheroes in film has certainly stirred the dead more than any other event. The immense profits made from films and merchandising of comic book characters that were unimaginable decades ago have breathed new vigor into aging creators who may have given up the fight long ago but now see the fortunes that are slipping through their fingers.

Suddenly a few of these stalwart underdogs have played a winning hand.

It is important to pay close attention to victories because they are often shrouded in secretive settlements that, though they may satisfy and reward the challenges of the creator are designed to ultimately protect the stake of the corporate holder. Terms of agreement that require secrecy lend little support to other challengers except to grant hope that they too can come to a settlement that will satisfy their unique complaint.

Stan Lee took Marvel to task in 2002 for royalties owed for characters he co-created.  He was awarded a $10 million settlement in 2005 according to Marvel’s first quarter operating results that year. This of course begs to question, what about Steve Ditko and the Jack Kirby estate?

Archie Comics settled with Ken Penders regarding rights to the characters he created while working on stories for Sonic the Hedgehog and Knuckles comics. His characters have shown up in reprints, comics, and video games. Victory in hand, he now has his sights set on Sega and Electronic Arts. Sega would not event participate with Archie in the original proceedings making Archie’s defense more laughable than it was. Penders plans to utilize the characters he created in a graphic novel series entitled The Lara-Su Chronicles.

Jim Starlin’s relationship has seemed so warm and fuzzy with Marvel since it was revealed that Thanos, a character he created, would be a major player in the Avengers film franchise as well as the Guardians of the Galaxy. Little has been made public, but one can only assume that a settlement has been reached since Starlin can prove that he created Thanos before he even came to work for Marvel.

Recently, in a congratulatory comment  to Gary Friedrich made via Facebook and Twitter, artist Bob Layton publicly stated that  he and David Michelinie had settled with Marvel over rights issues to a character created during their long run on Iron Man.

Does this activity indicate that the tide is turning? Is it possible the the courts are finally recognizing what we have known for years; that creators of intellectual property in the comic industry have been grossly taken advantage of? Is public sentiment starting to influence the position of the courts and the corporations? Is the work for hire practice of the major comic companies finally damaging the value of their good will?

A lot of creators have been cheated over the decades. A lot of challenges have laid buried beneath heaps of residue from corporate greed, abuse and the creator’s fear of reprisal.

There is a tremor now. That which was once thought dead is rising from the loosened earth. Like the Ghost Rider, injustice is igniting its fury. A new day is coming and that which was dead will be no more. Creator’s Rights will rise like the undead and the  APOCALYPSE will be waged upon corporate greed.

Gerry Giovinco



Revolution?

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

There has been a lot of talk lately about a creator ownership revolution.

Are we kidding?!

Can we seriously refer to it as a revolution, now?

This whole idea of creator ownership and creator rights goes way back. What creator wouldn’t be hesitant to sell away the rights of their creation or just fritter it away on a work for hire contract, but hey, if you wanted to work in comics that’s how things were done.

Steve Gerber

Howard The Duck

The late Steve Gerber was the first guy I remember to have the guts to stand up and buck the system. The thumbing of his nose at Marvel who ironically was haggling trademark issues with the then adversarial Disney corporation over Steve’s brilliant creation, Howard the Duck, was the shot heard around the world for comic creators.

His collaboration with Jack Kirby on Destroyer Duck published by Eclipse Comics, an early Independent publisher, was an example of what was to come in regards to creator rights and ownership.

Destroyer Duck 1

Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby of course was the King of comic creators and he too required the support of comic creators everywhere in a battle for his rights which has yet to be settled years after his passing.

Creators have fought the good fight. They have educated themselves on copyright issues. They have marketed their works, self published, merchandised, licensed and have experimented with formatting in both print and digital.

Creators have brought diversity to the medium exploring genres well beyond superheroes. Their efforts have been awarded with film deals and other opportunities never afforded to comic creators back in the day.

This dynamic climate for creators has been in the making for over thirty years. It’s not a revolution, its a resolution to what was unfair in the industry for decades.

So why all of the sudden rhetoric? Why all of the jitters?

Because there is an air of complacency.

Distribution is one of the key ingredients to independence for the creator. The early days of the Direct Market, made it a haven for independent publishers and innovative creators. Without the Direct Market there would be no diversity in comics today. Marvel and DC have been happy to let a small niche of unique product proliferate but have always been quick to flood the market when there were signs of significant competition rising.

The Direct Market is suffocating as the demand for print shrinks and the biggest casualties will be the small publishers that publish the creator owned works, inciting an exodus to digital content distributors.

These same distributors have access to an enormous library of Marvel and DC works. If the big two were happy to flood the market of the monthly pull list, do you think they would care if they drowned the digital market with 70 years of available monthly content?

Remember, this is not just Marvel and DC we are talking about. Those guys in the New York offices actually love comics and probably enjoy a lot of the diverse content out there but Warner Brothers and Disney will need and want to protect their intellectual properties.

The best way to guarantee that Superman and Spidey have no competition is to make sure there can be none.

Comics are too easy to produce, publish and distribute compared to any other visual entertainment medium. Its too easy for another Mutant TurtleSpawn, Scott Pilgrim, or Wimpy Kid to sneak up and take market dollars.

TMNT, Spawn, Scott Pilgrim, Wimpy Kid

It is naive to think that the monster corporations are not intent on controlling digital distribution.

Revolution? No.

Wake up call?

YES!!!

Creators have got to be smart and protect the market for each other. We need to focus on innovative ways to market comics to the new generation of digital readers. Keep the sources open. Capitalize on the web. Be creative about sourcing revenue from free content as well as monetized downloads.
Be a community.

Beware of the competition. It is not each other. It is the super powers that be.

Most of all, value your creative freedom. It has been fought for for decades. Now is the time that we may have the greatest opportunity in front of us.

Let’s not let it slip away.

Making comics because I want to!

Gerry Giovinco


The Comic Company: Licensed to Thrill

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

A number of comic book companies today fill their product line-ups with licensed properties. IDW, Boom, Darkhorse and Ape are among the most significant publishers outside of Marvel and DC who have found value in acquiring licensed properties from other media outlets.

The idea is simple and is a marketing tool used by scores of merchandising companies in nearly every industry. Find an intellectual property with high visibility. Purchase the rights to make an exclusive product featuring the property. Benefit from the sales generated by the customer recognition of the popular property.

Badda Boom, Badda Bing!

Licensing and merchandising is nothing new. Saint Paul built Christianity on its basic premises by marketing the popular teachings of Jesus as a new religious product.

Merry Christmas,” two thousand and ten years later!

Comic books have used it since the beginnings of the industry. The first comic books featured licensed syndicated newspapers comics that were reprinted in color.

It shouldn’t have been a big deal in 1983 when Comico licensed the rights from Harmony Gold to publish the English adaption of the popular Japanese animated series MACROSS. But it was and it became an even bigger deal that put Comico on the map as a major player in the comic industry.

Robotech/Macross #1 cover, Comico 1984

At the time, and please correct me if I’m wrong, Comico was the first independent comic company to enter into a licensing deal other than one that was of a creator owned property. Only Marvel and DC had a lock on that side of the market and, to the best of my knowledge, no one else was even considering it.

Comico’s deal was innocent enough. It was built on the enthusiasm of Carl Macek for his project that he was working on with Harmony Gold and the Comico crew’s collective interest in Anime. Comico enthusiastically became the first American licensee of MACROSS.

At the same time DC acquired the rights from Revell to publish ROBOTECH, based on a line of toys designed around assorted transforming robot molds that Revell had purchased from a toy company in Japan. When the first issue was published by DC it was clear that a number of the robots in ROBOTECH were from the MACROSS series and many of the other robots were from other series that Harmony Gold also held the rights to.

Needless to say there was lot of wrangling going on but Carl Macek and Harmony Gold held the trump card. They had an entire animated series that could be adapted to TV in the American market. As Stan Lee would say, “‘Nuff said!”

Revell and Harmony Gold worked together to build the ROBOTECH franchise that took America by storm. Harmony Gold proved their honor by awarding Comico the rights to the comic book resting it from DC since we had the original deal for the actual story.

Comico's 1st Color Books

Comico had already established its ability to produce quality product with its first color offerings, MAGE, EVANGELINE, ELEMENTALS and MACROSS. Our production and success of the ROBOTECH comics helped the marketing team behind ROBOTECH to attract more licensees and before long the ROBOTECH logo was everywhere.

Others took notice and soon we were being contacted others, most notably Hannah Barbera who was looking for a publisher for Thundarr the Barbarian. Our interest, however, was in one of their long dormant properties, Jonny Quest.

Jonny had been off their radar for so long that the people we were dealing with thought that it was a Filmation property and were surprised to discover it in their own archives.

Jonny Quest was a huge success for Comico and other properties were soon to follow. Space Ghost, Gumby, and Starblazers were all big hits. We also set our sights on Max Headroom and though we did initially acquire the property and began marketing it, creative differences arose between the editorial staff, creative team and the owners of the property, Chrysalis Records. Max Headroom never became a Comico comic book.

Other comic companies picked up where Comico left off, finding success in licensed properties. Others found even greater success in licensing their own properties following in the insanely successful footsteps of Eastman and Laird’s nearly immortal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Now, more than ever before, with the advent of digital content and the internet, we have to closely examine what is the true value of the comics that we make. Is it the comics themselves or is it the intellectual property they are derived from?

We all would love to make money selling our comics and I can tell you from experience that you certainly can but folks, the real money is in the properties themselves.

Disney and Warner Brothers both know this and are in the process of redefining the IP of Marvel and DC for success in the long haul while producers throughout Hollywood are rummaging through comic properties regularly looking for the next Mutant Turtle.

The Internet is the comic creator’s opportunity to develop and establish rights to a property while reaching an audience that is global. Protect your assets, invest your skills and let the best properties sell themselves. This is the greatest time ever to be a comic creator. Take advantage of it!

Hey, I know the economy sucks and the market is in tremendous flux but guess what? That is exactly how it was when Mickey and Superman showed up both borne on the backs of failure and surrounded by the Great Depression. Their strength was the brilliance of their property which still shines today.

Comic properties can have tremendous economic power and there is plenty of proof. Don’t be discouraged if you are a creator or a fan. The future for comics is bright.

David Anthony Kraft’s COMICS INTERVIEW: The Complete Collection Vol 1

CO2 Comics is going into 2011 as optimistic as anybody! The content of our site is growing steadily and our readership is expanding rapidly. We have published our first book, David Anthony Kraft’s COMICS INTERVIEW: The Complete Collection Volume 1 and have new products on the horizon.

But our biggest achievement is the honor That Bill and I have of posting the great comics that have been trusted to our site by creators that we love and respect so that all of our valued readers can enjoy them.

Thank you everyone for this opportunity to do what we enjoy most.

Making comics because I want to.

Gerry Giovinco

CO2 COMICS and HARMONY GOLD Celebrate ROBOTECH Anniversary at ZENKAIKON 2009

Monday, November 9th, 2009
zenkaikon_1

Chris Kalnick, Mike Leeke, Gerry Giovinco, Neil Vokes and Tommy Yune

This past weekend at Zenkaikon 2009 held in King of Prussia,
Pennsylvania, CO2 Comics and Harmony Gold USA collaborated
to reunite members of the Comico crew that first published
the ROBOTECH comic series.

25 years after the 1984 publication of Macross #1 which would
become ROBOTECH The Macross Saga with issue #2,
Comico and current CO2 publisher Gerry Giovinco along with artists,
Mike Leeke, Neil Vokes and Chris Kalnick, who all also feature work
on the CO2 Comics web site, gathered together as guests for a
ROBOTECH panel discussion hosted by Harmony Gold Creative Director, Tommy Yune.

zenkaikon_2

Chris Kalnick, Mike Leeke, Gerry Giovinco and Neil Vokes

The panel focused on the past, present, and exciting future of the
ROBOTECH franchise with emphasis placed on the upcoming
ROBOTECH film to be produced by Warner Brothers.

zenkaikon_3

Chris Kalnick, Neil Vokes, Lisa Hayes character, Gerry Giovinco, Mike Leeke and Tommy Yune

An estimated 9,000 attendees arrived to attend the Zenkaikon,
overwhelming the convention with with their huge array of
cosplay costuming.

Thanks to Harmony Gold and Zenkaikon.


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