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Should Creators Have More Rights Over Their Characters?

Work for hire limits the rights a creator has over a given property, but should that change?

Making comics is not an easy job. Aside from the countless hours, sweat, frustration and tears a creator might put into a project, there is still the question of the amount of recognition and ownership any given creator should hold over a given property. A writer may work on a comic book series for an entire decade, make strides in a character's development, and still never be fully recognized for his efforts. The recent settlement between writer Neil Gaiman and co-founder of IMAGE Comics Todd McFarlane over ownership of SPAWN supporting characters Medieval Spawn, Angela and Cogliostro where Gaiman previously obtained "50 percent owner of content in two Spawn issues and the first three issues of a Spawn spin-off" got us thinking about creator rights and ownership. If a creator is hired by an individual or a publisher to create a character, should they be given some of the royalties of the work even in a "work for hire" situation?

Work for hire means that the person who is hired to create a work is not always the individual recognized as the author of that work and therefore won't hold any ownership rights over the work he or she created. Take for example a computer program. A computer program will always list the name of the company (Microsoft, for example) but it may not list the names of the developers who built the program. Additionally, the developers of said program will receive a payment for the work they were hired by the company to do, but they may not receive royalties for the number of programs that are sold.

The same thing goes for comic books. A company or creator might be hired to create a character or a concept. That concept or character might rise in popularity, but if the project was work for hire, the creators won't likely ever see royalties. The creator also won't hold any ownership over the properties and they will not be able to reprint the work. Essentially, even though they did the work, they do not own it.

== TEASER ==

For example; during his time at Marvel, Rob Liefeld created some of the most memorable Marvel comics characters. However, even though he created massively popular characters, Liefeld holds no ownership of them. Working for hire at Marvel means Liefeld relinquished his copyright ownership over properties he developed for the company. For example, when Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza first created Shatterstar for Marvel comics, he never intended for Shatterstar to be gay.

“… I have nothing against gays, I have gay family, nuthin’ but love here...Ditto gay characters if that’s what their true origins are. As the guy that created, designed and wrote his first dozen appearances, Shatterstar is not gay. Sorry. Can’t wait to someday undo this. Seems totally contrived.”

Although Liefeld may not have originally written Shatterstar to be gay, since Marvel holds the rights to the character, there is nothing that Liefeld can do about it. That is of course, until he gets the chance to write the character again. Even if you don't agree with Liefeld over Shatterstar's sexual orientation, he does present an interesting idea. As Shatterstar's creator, Liefeld obviously holds some sentiments regarding the type of character he envisions Shatterstar to be. As of now that quote, the portrayal of Shatterstar did not line up with the vision of his creator, but does it matter?

Should the character's creator have any rights over the character, even if the he or she was under a work for hire contract? Should Liefeld, or any creator that has done work for hire, get some kind of recognition or hold some kind of ownership over a given property? What do you think? What kind of rights do you think a creator should have?

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Edited by Dernman

hmm I'm torn. Both sides can have very strong arguments.

Posted by ReVamp

Yes, as long as it doesn't stop the company from allowing the character to develop.

Posted by zackattack529

if i created a comic character id want full ownership untill i decide to sell rights to someone. the whole reason i want to write comics is because i wanna create something. make my mark. not do this for money, i dont wnt it to be a job.

Posted by The Sadhu

Interesting article... Recognition for character creation... Yes Copy Right for characters... Hmmmm... not sure on that one?!?!

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

If a creator want's full control over a character they should write for a creator-owned-company. If they don't then they have no right to complain about what the company is doing with them.

Posted by anxioustube

Of course the creator of a character should be given credit for their work. If the work is cannon; then most definitely. The creator of character at least should have overview of the work for hire work that is created by the company.

Posted by LordRequiem

I think if they have designed and created a character it should be theirs by right, and not twisted by another entity unless they wish it so. To see something you've spawned (pun intended) be manipulated in a way not your own must be very demoralising.

Posted by thecomicscove

Much as I am all for creators' rights, I'm forced to fall on the side of the publishers on this one. If you sign a contract that is work-for-hire, your involvement ends at the conclusion of said contract. You can try to stipulate things during the negotiations, but once you sign on the dotted line, you're basically bound to what's written in that piece of paper.

The moral: artists, writers, creators, know what you're signing on for.

Posted by charlieboy

eh shatterstar is a lot more interesting character now than he was back then. but i am sorry if you work for one of the big comic companies they own the characters. that is just how it is.

Posted by JonesDeini

@spiderbat87 said:

If a creator want's full control over a character they should write for a creator-owned-company. If they don't then they have no right to complain about what the company is doing with them.

Up, really no other side of this to me, folk. You know the deal going into the situation.

Posted by DoomDoomDoom

I think the creator should at least be acknowledge Similar to how Batman's creators, Kane and Finger, are usually mentioned in the beginning of your typical Bats comic.

Argh...I'm not really that sure. Creators should retain some rights without encroaching on artistic freedom if a new writer or artist comes along after the original creator has stepped out. -HMPH- I'm truly out of my depth here.

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous
@LordRequiem said:

I think if they have designed and created a character it should be theirs by right, and not twisted by another entity unless they wish it so. To see something you've spawned (pun intended) be manipulated in a way not your own must be very demoralising.

But that's like saying if a construction company is hired to build some houses for another company then get money for every person that lives in the house and also get to complain when the house is then converted in to a service station.
Posted by BlackArmor

Liefeld planning to undo Shatterstar seems like kind of a troll move

Posted by DarthShap

I am all for copyrights protecting the rights of authors but let's face it. If not for these two majors owning all these characters, there would be no Marvel and DC shared universe.

This is why we fans are usually split over this topic, especially considering the threat of a DCU without Superman.

Edited by Fantasgasmic

I think they should be able to get some royalties for future uses of the character, or the option to map out a character's history. If the creator has a specific history in mind for someone they should be able to set it up and have it canon (assuming it's not generic and vague) but if they didn't have any ideas/plans and just don't like how the character evolved, too bad so sad.

Posted by Gordo789

so long as that creator isn't Rob Liefeld.

Posted by jordama

I think they knew the deal when they went in. The characters aren't theirs in that sense. And to Liefield's point, the development was explained in a completely reasonable way. And again I will point out that Shatterstar is pansexual, not gay. It has been shown in many panels that he is still attempting to have sexual relationships with females.

Posted by VioletPhoenix

sometimes it allows the characters to develop amazingly and really show growth and change, keeps characters from getting stagnant. I mean look how far Shatterstar has come as a character, he's really really been given room to change and work with X-Factor's dynamic. When it works, it works.

Posted by thecomicscove

@LordRequiem said:

I think if they have designed and created a character it should be theirs by right, and not twisted by another entity unless they wish it so. To see something you've spawned (pun intended) be manipulated in a way not your own must be very demoralising.

I can understand your viewpoint, but it just doesn't work that way. Unless you flat-out do all the work yourself, including publishing, distribution, and marketing, you generally have to go with a publisher, and publishers do their business through contracts. If you sign on to work for hire, then you basically have to play by those rules.

It basically comes down to knowing which arenas you're playing in, and playing accordingly:

Let's say I'm working on a story idea that I plan to publish on my own at some point, or maybe go through a creator-owned publishing house. I will work extra hard to make sure I retain as much creative control as I can. But it may be a long time (if ever) that I see much money for my work. I can accept that. In that instance, I want to have as much input into a narrative that I've developed over a long time.

Let's say I have another idea that, if I ever managed to catch Marvel's attention, I think would be perfect for their comic universe. If I ever do sign a contract with them, I know that once I tell that story, introduce any new characters in it, etc., that's it. I'm done. They can do with them what they please once I've told that particular story. And I can accept that as well. In that instance, I just want to tell that story to that particular audience, and then bow out.

Posted by Meteorite

Just look at how Image works; they may not be the biggest company, but having more creator rights has worked fine for them, and it allows a lot more creative freedom. More companies should follow in their footsteps.

Posted by thecomicscove

@jordama: lol, pansexual? So, he's more like Captain Jack Harkness then? Quite amusing. :)

Posted by Maniac2312

@anxioustube said:

Of course the creator of a character should be given credit for their work. If the work is cannon; then most definitely. The creator of character at least should have overview of the work for hire work that is created by the company.

I totally agree with the bolded. The rest, they created the the character for the company, it belongs to the company. The first thing I thought of while reading this is the whole Superman argument and how business was said to be done in the early days of comics. This may be a different time and different rules, but I think the idea is the same.

On Shatterstar now being gay? Why? Ratings? But that's neither here nor there I guess......

@LordRequiem said:

I think if they have designed and created a character it should be theirs by right, and not twisted by another entity unless they wish it so. To see something you've spawned (pun intended) be manipulated in a way not your own must be very demoralising.

But if they designed and created said character for a specific company, team, or story does the company just put the character aside till the creator comes back to write it again? Or should the creator be able to take said character with them if they move to a different company? Can you imagine Shatterstar (as one example used) in the DC universe? or at Image? What happens to his origin story? His history? Is it cannon still? Oh the possibilities. True Marvel did something to the character (Shatterstar) that was not intended by his creator, but he does belong to Marvel.

Posted by sergyanime

I want to right comics and id like to own my characters. Look at what happened with the runaways it got worse and worse and then got caned and we haven't seen anything really from them in years. If the creator owned them I'm sure we would still have solid runaways content or the series would have had a real closing.

Posted by Maniac2312

@jordama said:

I think they knew the deal when they went in. The characters aren't theirs in that sense. And to Liefield's point, the development was explained in a completely reasonable way. And again I will point out that Shatterstar is pansexual, not gay. It has been shown in many panels that he is still attempting to have sexual relationships with females.

Pretty much this......and thank you for the clarification on Shatterstars sexuality.......still, even though I always thought he was a gay (sucky) character, I still assumed he was heterosexual.......again, neither here nor there, just saying.......

Posted by acomicbooklook

I would like for all creators to be able to have some sort of rights to the characters they create, but it's not a perfect world.

Posted by fps_dean

I'm not a comic author by any means, but as a musician I think musicians should have rights over their music, so why should comic creators not have rights to their characters too?

On the flipside if creators truly own their characters then we could run into a scenario where a character, let's say for sake of argument Green Lantern, could be brought from the DC Universe into the Marvel universe. How messed up would that be?

Additionally, having a character fit into the rest of the comic world for tie ins and evens will mean the creators may have to give up a bit of ownership.

So while I tend to side with the creators, there is a benefit to both sides.

Edited by Hazlenaut

Ken Penders was psst when Sega took the concept of the Dark Legion without even giving thanks when they made the game Dark Brotherhood and Archie for Hershey. He even sued them for the right of these characters. This why Sonic fans tend to get ugly among other reasons.

The Batman and Superman creators are other people that have been cheated as well. This may be the reason why creative loved ideas are hard time being used since the creators feel like he/she will be cheated by their partners.

Posted by BatClaw89

No they shouldn't. Bob Kane created Batman and that's great love Batman. the great thing about character is the evolution they take through time and through the different writers that take these characters to new worlds and levels. Batman would not be the Batman he is today if Bob Kane  had a say in it.  

Posted by Darkmount1

I'd say they should amend the work-for-hire concept for the case of entertainment companies, especially comic book publishers. Probably the first thing I'd definitely add: "the original creator(s) shall be fully compensated for their creation of a character or concept by being given an equal share of any profits made using said character or concept in the form of royalties of a consistent and decent amount." Forget the corporate and focus on the cooperative, that's my approach.

For those of you who think my idea is crazy, how about this alternative: to any comic book creator planning on creating a character/concept for a large publishing company, BRING A LAWYER to help negotiate the contract in YOUR favor. And make sure it's the kind of lawyer that CAN'T BE BOUGHT OFF.

Posted by Mumbles

i wonder what shatterstar (comicvine member) thinks about all of this gay? his heart must be broken

Posted by JediXMan

Depends, really. If you make a character for Batman or the X-Men, no, you don't own them. If you create your own original series under the banner of a big name, yes, you should have some rights.

Posted by NightFang

@Dernman said:

hmm I'm torn. Both sides can have very strong arguments.

@ReVamp said:

Yes, as long as it doesn't stop the company from allowing the character to develop.

Posted by Decoy Elite

@JediXMan said:

Depends, really. If you make a character for Batman or the X-Men, no, you don't own them. If you create your own original series under the banner of a big name, yes, you should have some rights.

I Agree with this.

Posted by tonis

Although I'm for offering creative freedom to writers so they can tell the best possible stories, it is also a catch-22 for the publishing side of the equation.

Your analogy to a computer programmer is a good one, having been one myself it is a decision one makes when they decide between just safely working for someone for a paycheck vs risking building their own empire for total control.

Realistically it typically takes more than one person to get something done. Creating an idea is really just a single step in the whole process of completion. Albeit an important one, that alone does not get you to the finish line.

If a creator is determined to maintain their control throughout, they then need to be willing to cover all the bases that the publisher would have done and handle everything themselves. That of course includes marketing and distribution, which is what the publishers really offer their creators, an already established presence.

With digital changing the landscape for self publishers, we'll see more and more people willing to take a shot on their own. I suspect however from the publishing side you won't see too much change. It's simply about business to them.

Posted by dewboy01

Flip gays into straights? yes!!

Posted by GREGalicious

I somewhat agree that the creator should have some say in what happens to their creations, BUT it also may take several other stories from other creators to truly make that creation "popular" or well known. Even though the creator may not always agree with the liberties taken with his/her work, they still should consider it an honor that others even want to work with their creations.

In the case of SHATTERSTAR; he's a fictional character who was created to have an "asexual" orientation so one could argue that having such a character eventually develop sexual or romantic feelings is just one of the logical next steps in character growth. Someone was going to do it eventually, so I don't really see the problem. An asexual character "testing the waters" of his sexuality doesn't really mean he is Gay or Straight-Final Answer; he's just met someone who's made him really feel so it would make sense that he would want to hold on to that. At least Shatterstar's developments have increased his popularity as an added bonus!

Posted by Superguy0009e

creators need to have some sort of control, or their characters will just become dissary

Posted by PikminMania

Alan Moore. That is all.

Posted by ladydeath

I think the artists/creator should have the right to claim a 'new' character as theirs and have some say as to how their character develops.

Posted by ApatheticAvenger

@charlieboy said:

eh shatterstar is a lot more interesting character now than he was back then. but i am sorry if you work for one of the big comic companies they own the characters. that is just how it is.

Most of the characters Liefeld created were made more interesting and more popular by other writers. Joe Kelly made Deadpool what we know him as today, for instance. It can be the same for other works as well. Chris Claremont is more influential to the X-Men than Stan Lee, and Peter David made Shatterstar a cool superhero who just happened to be gay (which is a lot more than one can say for the cliche-ridden mess he was when Liefeld had control).

Posted by charlieboy

i hope that was sarcasm, krypton. because if you meant that it is too sad for words.

Posted by BritishMonkey

i think in some ways they should

or put their foot down and get copyrights to their characters and ownership over their characters they make before they start writing about the character

Posted by redhood21

i think they should at least to some degree. if that wasn't rob's vision for his character then by all means change it, but i feel like 20 years later its a little late....

gay characters are fine i like scandal savage and batwoman, but they need a purpose and not there just to be there like miguel on teen titans. i also dont think they should tinker with existing characters sexuality.

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

In all honesty it sounds like a double edged sword to me. Yes, on one hand ideally creators should be given more rights over the characters they create since recognition would be slow coming without. After all, its only fair that creators be given their fair share of praise for what they do. On the other hand it seems that to give such rights to characters created from a work for hire limitation would open up so many loopholes, battles and controversies. You mention of course Image's recent settlement with Gaiman for the Medieval Spawn character or Liefeld's creation of Shatterstar as good examples. And in this comic world there are literally thousands of other instances in which creators do not necessarily own the artistic/creativity rights over the characters they made. As for royalties, unfortunately no for I believe when one goes into a "work for hire" contract that they willingly sign away any exclusive rights they would have to a character. Recognition doesn't necessarily have to mean rights over a character. We will know to the day we die that Bob Kane and Bill Finger are the creative geniuses behind Batman. Siegel and Shuster behind Superman. William Moulton Marsden behind Wonder Woman. Etc., etc. Would these characters be the same today if their creators had total rights over the characters? Of course not. In fact they probably wouldn't even have the popularity today they have garnered had other writers/artists stepped in as the years progressed. On the other hand, the exact opposite can be said for characters NOT created in a work for hire situation, ones such as the creations of Robert Kirkman for example. His rights MUST be reaffirmed and recognized over his creations, as do others over which their creators have total reign. But I digress. In the end, while it is an ideal gesture to say that in the comic world creators should have more license over the characters they create due to a work for hire contract, in reality this just cannot apply. Too many problems would result.

Posted by EugeneSaxe

If you want to keep the character, don't write it for someone else.

Posted by Darkmount1

@KRYPTON :

Posted by astrid12

Hmmmm, I can see where they're coming from BUT I work for DC or Marvel and sign a contract or agree to this fact I really wouldn't be angry or upset if they were to change that character later on, unless they really mess it up, like REALLY, REALLY mess it up.

Posted by thecomicscove

@EugeneSaxe: Very succinctly and well put. My sentiments precisely.

Posted by cacarl

It should be like it is with comics in Japan.

Posted by sickVisionz

I think you should always be listed as the creator but a work for hire is a work for hire and I totally believe in paying dues. If you're big enough to demand it, more power to you. If you're a nobody, good luck. You can always own 100% of your web published series that gets 10 views a week. If you want to roll with the big boys though, you have to pay your dues and put in work first.

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