New York Comic Con (NYCC) is a highly anticipated event for comic fans, anime lovers, and gamers alike. This year was no different, with a record-breaking attendance of over 200,000 attendees. Every year, thousands of people come together to celebrate this ever-growing section of American culture, and there’s a small part of that culture that you should be very curious about if you are a comic book content creator, and that area is copyrights.
This year’s NYCC hosted a small legal panel that gave a little window into the realm of copyrights with regards to created comics and characters. This year, the panel featured both intellectual property attorneys as well as comic content creators, so that guests could get a perspective of both sides of the spectrum. The features panelists were Thomas A. Crowell, Katie Lane, Sheafe B. Walker, David Gallaher, and Alan Robert. Together, they guided NYCC guests through the four main legal issues that you should be the most concerned about as a comic book creator: copyright in general, your rights and ideas as a creator, the importance of trademarks, and the right to publish.
This year, I had the opportunity to attend NYCC, and I personally observed the panel. Here are some of the most important things that I learned from the experience. First, you can get a copyright by creating something. You can, and should, register your copyright by going to copyright.gov, which is the only way to register a copyright. It’s very DIY-able, so you don’t necessarily need an attorney to register a copyright for you. As a creator, it is in your best interest to register your copyright, as registering gives you the power to enforce your copyright and the right to seek damages if someone infringes on your work.
Secondly, if you are unprepared, and did not do your research beforehand, you are probably putting yourself in a dangerous zone if you are a work-for hire, or are collaborating with other creators. A work for hire is simply an individual who is hired as an independent contractor, or a hired employee of whatever business is in question. With a work-for-hire agreement, the owner of the intellectual property (IP) is the hiring party. Whether you are in a work-for-hire arrangement, or you are working with joint authors, you need to make sure that you have a clear agreement (preferably one that is written down and signed by all parties to the agreement) explaining all of the important issues, including but not limited to, what exactly it is that you’ll be doing together, how it will get it done, how you anticipate being able to exercise certain rights, what happens if something goes wrong, who will own the IP, how will proceeds be split, and who has the right to create derivative works, which are creations based off of a prior work.
Third, if you are a comic book content creator, and you are trying to find a publisher, try following Alan’s Robert’s ten step process for procuring a publisher, which are: (1) protecting yourself by registering your copyrighted works before pitching your story to a publisher; (2) writing a clear and concise short blog-line describing what your story is about; (3) designing a dynamic one page plot description that shows that you know where your story is going; (4) breaking down your character(s), including their names, headshot, 1-2 paragraphs describing who they are and their character arcs; (5) using attractive artwork; (6) being realistic with what you’re doing. Start small; (7) choosing the proper publishing company to pitch to; (8) being flexible to any input from an interested publishing company; (9) growing a thick skin. Rejection is all part of the process, but don’t give up. Patience is half of the battle; and finally, (10) developing and practicing your elevator pitch.
Finally, if you are interested in breaking into this particular field, regardless of whether you are a current law student, a recent law school graduate, or otherwise, you can begin right now. Start reading and educating yourself about the ins and outs, and inform yourself about both the common and novel issues that you see in comics. Then start writing and talking about those elements whenever you can. You can even start an online blog, where you discuss your findings, opinions, and things that you have learned. Start paying attention to what’s going on in the industry, and let people see that you have a perspective and some experience under your belt. If you are a current law student or a recent law school graduate who desires to break into copyrights for comic books, then in addition to everything that was just previously mentioned, take every copyright class that your law school provides, and go to as many related CLE courses that you can. Networking will be one of your best assets, so try to establish and maintain connections with people who are practicing what you want to do; develop mentor relationships with those people if possible. Remember, your only limits are the ones that you place on yourself.