Update: Bill Willingham releases Fables into the wild of Public Domain


Writer Bill Willingham has been grumbling within recent days concerning the release of the latest series of Fables comics and DC Comics. Plagued by delays, the specifics have been vague as to greater issues… up to now.

In a post entitled, “Willingham Sends Fables Into the Public Domain,” the writer not only announces his intention to release Fables into the Public Domain but also goes into some more specifics as to issues he’s dealt with during the series.

Some specifics mentioned that are in “violation of agreements”:

  1. “forgetting to seek my opinion on artists for new stories, or for covers, or formats of new collections”
  2. ” They are often late reporting royalties, and often under-report said royalties, forcing me to go after them to pay the rest of what’s owed.”
  3. “More recently, during talks to try to work out our many differences, DC officers admitted that their interpretation of our publishing agreement, and the following media rights agreement, is that they could do whatever they wanted with the property.”
  4. “They had no obligation whatsoever to protect the integrity and value of the IP, either from themselves, or from third parties (Telltale Games, for instance) who want to radically alter the characters, settings, history and premises of the story (I’ve seen the script they tried to hide from me for a couple of years).”
  5. “Nor did they owe me any money for licensing the Fables rights to third parties, since such a license wasn’t anticipated in our original publishing agreement.”

Willingham hints there’s more and the above is just some of the highlights.

Now, on to the Public Domain. The concept as a whole, especially with a property that has a contract with a publisher, are a bit murky and confusing (on purpose). What exactly all this means will be up to those brave enough to take part and possibly lawyers and lawsuits depending on reactions after. But, Willingham is releasing the concept into Public Domain. No specifics are mentioned (like Creative Commons licensing), just it’s going into Public Domain.

If I understand the law correctly (and be advised that copyright law is a mess; purposely vague and murky, and no two lawyers – not even those specializing in copyright and trademark law – agree on anything), you have the rights to make your Fables movies, and cartoons, and publish your Fables books, and manufacture your Fables toys, and do anything you want with your property, because it’s your property.

Willingham is still under contract with DC so any Fables comics from him would come from DC. That also includes movies, toys, games, whatever that licenses Fables. He would still need to be paid for all of that.

Willingham instead is giving the license away as the “sole owner of the intellectual property.” Individuals don’t need permission to make their own version. Specifically mentioned are movies, cartoons, books, toys, anything individuals want.

Now, the legality of this all? It’s hard to say. Without reading the specific contract between Bill Willingham and DC, no one knows for sure. There’s also the difference between copyright and trademark which Willingham seems to mix up at times and let’s face it, Fables is based on characters that are already in the public domain so people could already do their own riff on them. You can see what’s printed in the Fables #1/Peter & Max Preview from 2009 below.

No matter, this is a hell of a shot across the bow as far as creators and their rights. It also shows some behind the scenes drama which generally hasn’t happened for a while.

You can read the full post and absolutely sound off below with your thoughts!

Update: DC Comics corporate has released the following statement:

The Fables comic books and graphic novels published by DC, and the storylines, characters and elements therein, are owned by DC and protected under the copyright laws of the United States and throughout the world in accordance with applicable law, and are not in the public domain. DC reserves all rights and will take such action as DC deems necessary or appropriate to protect its intellectual property rights.

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