By my own admission, I’m no legal expert. I’m not an intellectual property lawyer. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have any advice for aspiring comic book creators on the subject of copyright and trademarks.
As I mentioned, I’m not an expert in the legal field. I don’t know every in and out of how to protect your intellectual property. And I’m certainly not going to tell you not to. What I am going to tell you, is that if you’re worrying about copyright and trademark before you have anything to protect, you’ve got your priorities backwards.
I recently saw a posting on Facebook by an aspiring creator. He was looking for artists, but couldn’t pay them, because he didn’t have much money, and needed those funds for printing costs, advertising, and copyright and trademark filings.
You know what else he didn’t have? A story. Characters, a plot, a title, designs, to say nothing of a script or artwork. He was worried about protecting intellectual property he didn’t even possess.
This brought to mind a scenario that I encountered at one of the first comic conventions I ever attended as an artist. There was a guy going around looking for talent in artists alley (if you know artists alley, you know there’s a lot of people there, a fair number quite good at what they do, and most of them are hungry for paying gigs). This guy would go up to an artist whose work he liked (he was also looking for writers, but don’t ask me how he was trying to identify them), and pull out a business card, proudly proclaiming that he was the trademark owner of what was on the card. The card read “BYCH” in a kind of circuitry-looking font. So this guy owned a trademark on a homophone of “bitch.”
That was what he owned. Much like the person I described above, he did not have an artist attached to this project. He did not have a writer. He did not have a plotline, or characters. He had one word on a business card. He had done, from his perspective, all the hard work, coming up with the oh-so-clever title. He just needed some people to fill out the details, like what BYCH actually was and how a story could be built around it. A quick Google search indicates that the trademark has since been abandoned. Which makes sense, since, in order to maintain ownership of a trademark, you have to show continued use. I’m not sure this guy ever had any use of it.
But that’s the problem some creators have (and, in the case of the BYCH guy, I’m using the term “creators” very generously): they have this notion that protecting intellectual property is more important than creating it. Any idea they have could be gold. They might have the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on their hands. Even if they do, you know what? Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird didn’t just come up with a fun sounding name for a book and run off to the trademark office. They actually made a damn book.
Protecting your IP is absolutely necessary, no doubt about it, and like I said, I’m not the guy to ask for advice about the ins and outs of that stuff. But if you’re the guy who’s more worried about trademarking a symbol or copyrighting a name than you are about actually crafting something worth protecting, you’re going about creating comics completely backwards.