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Time Warner to Release Superhero Character Copyrights to Original Creators

In a move apparently spurred by the final impassioned plea of Joanne Siegel regarding Superman’s copyright issues, Time Warner announced Friday that it will revert all intellectual property rights, chiefly the rights to characters, to their respective creators, and in some instances the heirs of those creators.

“We’ve decided to give our creators back their children,” said a key Time Warner representative. “They’ve given us so much over the years — so much of their energy, their creativity, and their passion, in some cases for paltry compensation on characters that have become incredibly lucrative franchises. We felt the very least we could do was give these artists ownership of their ideas.” More on this after the jump.

Until now, the mainstream comics industry standard was a work-for-hire practice wherein any idea conceived as part of work for Marvel Comics or DC Entertainment belonged to the comics giants wholesale. The issue has been hotly contested in a number of legal battles that date as far back as the 1950′s and has drawn in such comics luminaries as Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Stan Lee.

The change will be effective immediately according to the statement. All current DC Comics orders will be placed on hold and reevaluated as new deals with creators are struck. DC comics already at distribution warehouses have been ordered pulped in preparation for the coming changes.


Pallets of comic books ready to be destroyed.

One retail giant, who asked not to be named, expressed both hope and worry regarding the monumental change. “Obviously, not having DC books on the stands will harm retailers for the near future,” he said. “That’s money we’re not making, fans we’re not creating. But on the other hand, I am happy for these writers and artists who were used and discarded after giving up a piece of themselves. It sounds like they’re finally getting some kind of cosmic justice.”

Surely, the move will impact retailers negatively at first, but DC has promised that the move will have much greater long-term benefits.

“Imagine a world where one or two men control the fate and direction of a universe full of unique characters,” said another key Time Warner rep, pointing to himself and another key Time Warner rep. “Can the minds of two people really give you exciting, dynamic stories, week in, week out, for years at a time? After all, if one approach or character became a success, rather than trying out new ideas, their inclination would be to try and repeat that formula over and over with diminishing returns into they ran it into the ground!”

The comics industry has reacted swiftly and almost universally positively to the news.

“This is what Jack would’ve wanted,” said Stan Lee, in reference to acclaimed comic creator Jack Kirby. “The ideas that he had, the vivid, realer-than-life characters he created weren’t meant to be owned and used like simple commodities. These things breathed, and taught, and thrilled, and, and, and excited! To treat them like some kind of assets that could be accounted for on a balance sheet is ludicrous!”


Stan Lee, and a guy behind him

Time Warner also announced retroactive compensation to all creators for previous character use in the statement. Their accountants have apparently been working around the clock to determine what percentage of comic sales were due to various creators and then trying to place that value in the context of the time the comic was released. Retroactive comic rates would be subject to inflation, said the publishing giant.

Other sectors of the comics industry have greeted the news with a less than optimistic point of view. “It’s just another form of slavery,” said British author and frequent DC critic Alan Moore. “You think they suddenly woke up and felt charitable? This is calculated and comes directly from the top. It comes from those with no vision, the ones in the tower who push the numbers around. They believe that our ideas aren’t worth anything on their own. It’s the vehicles they place these ideas in that make them money. And those are the chains that they have decided will bind us.”

Moore’s fears may be true. In a release sent hours after the initial flurry of copyright bombshell, Time Warner announced creators will now have to pay to use their characters in comic book, films, and graphic novels. Not only that, but DC retained exclusive use rights to any characters that had been published under their umbrella in any medium. So, while the creators now own their ideas, they must pay DC Entertainment to actually use them in any popular media format.

This policy will also be implemented retroactively. The estate of Bob Kane, for example, received a bill the day of the press release that informed them they owed Time Warner, DC Entertainment’s parent company, millions for the privilege of having Batman appear in a number of WB properties.

“I’m simply flabbergasted,” said the Kane estate’s lawyer. “This doesn’t even seem real. I know of no precedent for a move like this, but Warner Bros. have put their entire legal wing behind this and I don’t see any way this won’t be an issue in the courtroom for decades to come.”

DC’s New York neighbor and rival, Marvel Comics, have expressed lukewarm praise for the move. “It’s a good move, a smart move, and most definitely a desperate move,” remarked a source close to Marvel CFO Joe Quesada. “DC’s doing what it’s always done – grasping for straws. I applaud the intent, but not the motivation.”


Joe Quesada, possibly floating in the sky

Time will tell if DC Entertainment’s bold move will help or hurt the company, but Time Warner execs believe it’s the right move for the right reasons.

“We want to be stewards,” said a Time Warner rep. “Here at Time Warner, we don’t want to be puppeteers, guiding characters along on flimsy strings, having them say and do whatever we feel like would be most beneficial to us. It’s our job to make writers and artists lives easier. And only with complete agency over their creations do we feel that true artistry will thrive.”

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