Should heroes be able to control their symbols and likenesses?


            It probably passed by most people’s attention yesterday, but a district court judge yesterday stated that Louboutin will likely fail in its attempt to stop other shoe makers (specifically Laurent) from painting their soles red.   The red soles originated as Louboutin thought his shoes lacked flair and so painted the soles red with nail polish to give them an extra something.   The opinion of the judge is that no one has strict access to specific colours especially in reference to something as generic as the sole of a shoe.  

Here is Hayden wearing a pair

            Other than being just fluffy news there are some parallels to this in comics though.   The same issue was brought up in “The Dark Knight” for instance of who exactly has access to a symbol of hope such as what Batman and his symbol (the bat) portrays.   The issue here lies in that most heroes are either doing their heroics for the public good, and inspiration is part of their message.   What though if this inspiration takes the form of direct emulation instead of an application of the message in other areas. Does just any person have the right to put on a costume that looks like Batman and start fighting crime?   Especially if they haven’t dedicated their lives to this pursuit?   From a legal standpoint the answer would be yes of course, unless the hero somehow copywrited their appearance (though doing so might make a secret identity unlikely.)   From a moral standpoint it would be somewhat of an affront to the character themselves.   Dick Grayson for instance has struggled through his publication history to come out of the shadow of Batman, at times struggling with the role of his mentor.   It is therefore not something which any random individual can adopt for themselves and expect to give any real value to.   The best real life manifestation of this principle are the real world superheroes that patrol Manhattan.   They are of course not superpowered nor do they necessarily even fight crime, but they do so in their own names, not those of other characters.  

 

            In terms of being legally responsible though, the field of superheroics is one which is pretty much wide open.   Some writers have chosen to look at this aspect of their characters.   Specifically in volume three of Wonder Woman this was an issue which Gail Simone covered occasionally.   One time when meeting up with Black Canary, Diana discussed with her (while they were in a toy store) about how she is depicted in toy format (with her “assets” being the second biggest of female heroes.)  This might have been a mild critique of the portrayal of certain female characters (with Power Girl being implied here as the first) but it also highlights that in a legal sense that heroes really have no control over their own image, other than hoping that people don’t try to make a quick dollar on it.    

            Unlike in real life there are not really any legal recourses which comic characters can pursue, but if a person truly is motivated by their message they will know it is not intended to be through emulation or exploitation.    

3 Comments
3 Comments
Posted by cosmo111687

I could only imagine Iron Man or Booster Gold being preoccupied with copy-writing everything from their theme songs to boxers with their image on them. And perhaps now that Bruce Wayne has publicly revealed that he is working with Batman, he could possibly try to copy-write important Batman symbols in order to prevent somebody else from copy-writing them and thus preventing Batman from using those symbols in the future. But, mainly copy-write infringement wouldn't be at the forefront of Batman's mind and I assume that he would mostly just be concerned with the safety of anybody who dons his symbol besides himself. 

Posted by dondasch

This theme of merchandising was touched on within the alternate history of Kingdom Come, as well as by Ozymandias during the epic Watchmen series.  He decided to license his name to everything, thus amassing a fortune, and allowing himself to put his plan into action.

Posted by DrTTD

I'd like to see Captain Marvel sue The Flash over the use of his logo, since Captain Marvel wears yellow lightning bolt on a red shirt, and the Golden Age Flash pretty much wore a yellow lightning bolt on a red shirt. 
 
Although it is interesting to wonder how much people in-universe try to capitalize on the images of super heroes/villains. For example, in the DC universe there's a nightclub/gentleman's club called "Superior's" with dancers who dress in sexy versions of the outfits of costumed characters. Or, what about characters capitalizing off their own likenesses? I know there was an episode of the Justice League animated series where Flash got into trouble for being the mascot of some energy bar thing. And I'm pretty sure I've read something (I'm not sure what) where I've seen a billboard in the background with Booster Gold on it. 
 
Also, another interesting thing: There's a Batman comic originally from the early 40s I read in which Batman and Robin go into a movie theater that Two-Face is robbing, and the movie that's being shown is a Superman movie. So, this raises the question 1) do people in this universe make fictional movies about the exploits of heroes, 2) did Superman himself appear in a movie, or 3) were Superman and Batman not presumed to exist as real people in the same universe at this point in DC Comics history? If anyone could help me out with this, that'd be great, since I have no idea.