Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gaiman v. McFarlane II: This Time It's For Money

(I'm quoting "The Simpsons" there, don't get any ideas.)

CBR poster howyadoin linked me to this: a play-by-play account of the latest hearing the dispute between Todd McFarlane and Neil Gaiman over characters created for Spawn #9, written by fearless Comics Buyer's Guide editrix-in-chief Maggie Thompson, who apparently has the kind of free time to spend a day sitting in a courtroom in Madison, Wisconsin.

The issue of Gaiman's co-ownership of the copyrights to Angela, Medieval Spawn, and Cogliostro was settled back in 2002; what's at issue here is whether certain other characters introduced later are derivative of those characters. In this context, "derivative" means something like "the same Talking Malibu Stacy doll, but with a new hat." And it's all coming up now because McFarlane's company is finally emerging from bankruptcy, and now has to see about paying its creditors, of whom Gaiman is one. If the characters are sufficiently derivative, then a share of their profits must be included in the sum McFarlane owes Gaiman (who, by the way, apparently intends to donate it all to charity).

For me, the most interesting thing is seeing Gaiman's responses on cross-examination. He's thinking like a writer the whole time -- and yes, in my grand egotistic tradition, I do equate that with "thinking like me" -- giving responses that show he's thinking about what the words of the question mean (sometimes more than the defense attorney, which gave me a few billion chuckles), and going from there. For example, when asked if "a knight in armor [character]" would have armor, he responds, quite sensibly, "If he's a knight in armor, he would definitely have armor. If he didn't have armor, he would be a knight not in armor." The attorney probably wanted to kill him. I know my mom gets pissed when I pull that shit on her.

Furthermore, as someone with a small amount of legal experience (and I can't stress "small" enough; to call it an iota would demean iotas), and as a collaborative creative professional, I can't help but be fascinated by the precedents this could set. Right now, Kirby's heirs are looking to revert their share of the copyrights to, well, just about every Silver Age Marvel character. Like the Siegel/Superman case, the most likely ending is a settlement, but in the meantime, they just might have a stake in, not just the Hulk for example, but Hulk 2099. Or Red Hulk. Not a copyright stake, certainly, since Jack never touched those characters, but a royalty stake, via the "derivative characters" argument. So expect any settlement talks to dwell quite a bit on an agreed definition of "derivative," and an agreed percentage of profits from "derivative" characters.

Smarter people than I will work it out, thankfully. In fact, one of them already has worked out part of it; the Gaiman/McFarlane matter, at least, was ruled upon just yesterday. The short version is, Gaiman won. The long version is, read the .pdf.

As for me, I'm going to give this newfangled "sleep" thing a try. I hear all the kids are doing it.

No comments: