Thursday, March 30, 2006

Shouting at the Wall - Comic Book Trademarks

It was recently brought to the attention of the western world of comic consumers that the trademark for the words "superhero" and "super hero" belong to the two biggest comic book companies in existence, DC and Marvel, and they are attempting to add "super-hero" to the list. The response to this came mostly in the form of incensed bloggers and "copyright experts" bemoaning the destruction of free expression, as now no one will be able to talk about superheroes if they don't do it for DC or Marvel. The companies are taking harsh criticism from these internet savants for their "repugnant" effort to destroy freedom of expression by stealing superheroes from the rest of the world.

There are some facts missing from most of the epithets being cast so venomously at these horrible evil organizations. First: They have jointly held this trademark since the sixties. If there were any cause to get up in arms, you're all somewhere between thirty and forty years too late. Second: the exact ramifications of Marvel and DC owning this trademark. The full effect is as follows: No one outside the companies that own the trademark may use the trademarked words in any context in which those words are used to draw profit. What that means, in this particular context, is that other companies cannot use the words "superhero" or "super hero" to market their products, such as toys, movies, breakfast cereal, drugs, and, of course, comics. If the efforts of Marvel and DC are successful, then the same will apply to "super-hero" The pedestrian world at large seems to think that this means other companies can't even mention superheroes in their comics. The world of people who actually know something about trademark laws has a slightly different spin on it. Comic companies that are not Marvel or DC cannot use the trademarked words in the titles, or anywhere on the covers of their comics. That is all. They can say "superhero" "super hero", or "super-hero" within the actual content of the comics until they're blue in the face.

Now some may ask "But if we can't use those words in our titles, or out marketing, doesn't that mean we have to change a lot of titles?" To which I respond with another question: How many comics can you name with any variation of the word "superhero" in the title, or anywhere on the cover? I can name two: The Legion of Superheroes, which is a DC title, and probably the whole reason this started 30 years ago, and Invincible, which has recently been marketed as "The best super-hero comic ever", or something like that. Image comics can get along just fine without calling Invincible "LOL BEST SUPER-HERO EVAR!" It sells perfectly fine on its own. If they successfully add "super-hero" to their harem, which doesn't seem too likely anyway, almost nothing will change. No one but the most nitpicky will even notice when Image changes their marketing campaign for the one title that cares.

So, to summarize: DC and Marvel own the trademark to some words that start with "su" and end with "ero". They are trying to add a new "su-ero" word to their word-hoarde. That will mean that other comic makers won't be able to use that word in their titles or on their action figures. No one involved in the making of comics will notice, because no one wants to use the word "superhero" in their titles anyway, because it usually looks really stupid in print. The only people getting up in arms about this are the people who don't know any better and think that DC and Marvel are "stealing superheroes from us", and probably some indie comic companies that want to gain some good press by hitting the Big Two with bad publicity. This whole thing will blow over in less than a month.

And most importantly: It already happened over thirty years ago. These brilliant fuckers are about a generation behind in their whining. If something was going to be done about it, you missed your chance by a long shot. Let them have the words, let them try to take their new word. Nobody who matters cares.

And to the Space Network: Having a copyright expert on to discuss an issue relating to trademark laws was very stupid. You are a great disappointment to your mother and I. Even though Kim Poirier is very fine.

Damn, is she fine.

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