Why DC should put Batman and Superman in the public domain

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/07/19/why-dc-should-put-batman-and-s.html


Who’s the guy that plays Batman in the last installment? Oh I remember, the guy nobody can remember.

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Why can’t copyright be on a flexible term, extending only as long as similar, original, and equal / better quality works continue to be produced? Let the copyrights be contested and trademarks lost if a studio puts out a crap movie or neglects the property for 10 years. Allow unincorporated humans and their families a longer copyright term.

Wow that would be a full employment program for the nation’s lawyers.


Because we try to avoid having the government judge the artistic merits of things? I mean yes, there is the miller test, and sometimes it is hard to avoid, but having the courts judge relative merits of sequels?

I unreservedly support copyright reduction, and cautiously support copyright tests for abandoned works (which would be less of an issue if terms were shorter!). But I definitely don’t want someone to decide whether batman vs. superman is good enough to warrant continued protection of those characters.


It’s a good argument for the characters being in the public domain, but I’m not seeing the argument for DC making more money, a claim they were also making. Not having a monopoly wouldn’t help DC any - plenty of people would rather see someone else’s version if they had a choice.
The interesting thing about those characters is not only have numerous comic book writers gotten to do their own spins on the characters under contract to DC, but there are so many not-Batman and not-Superman characters out there because so many writers wanted to play around with the basic myths of the characters in more radical ways and/or on their own terms. Those characters ended up being interesting, distinct entities, some of which, ironically, are now in DC continuity due to company mergers.
Edit: And it’s interesting to think about this in terms of something like Star Trek, where the creator is dead, it’s 50 years old, and the company that owns the property has “rebooted” it beyond recognition, with the only people interested in continuing in the original spirit are fans prevented from making anything too professional. If Star Trek was in the public domain, both could exist.
Edit edit: And also Universal’s Monster movies. They’re trying to create a franchise of “shared universe” monster movies in an attempt to ape Marvel’s success. The problem is, their iconic versions of the public domain characters in the early 20th century films were so iconic they became clichés (evening dress Dracula, square-top, bolt-neck Frankenstein’s monster, etc.). So they’re making monster movies that even people who are aware of their strategy can’t distinguish from other studios’ versions of the public domain characters.


Seeing as how those who seek office should be those automatically disqualified from office, I hereby nominate you.

(Unless you’re playing me.)

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This is great.

So bored with superheroes. And I am a non stop comic reader. It seemed in the 80s that they had some possibility in some limited way (at least insofar as we admitted that watchmen pulled the rug from the fetish gear thing) but they have got so, very, very tired.

Reminds me of a conversation I had with a mate this afternoon about the history of sampling while our children and our friends children were playing Iin blow up pool in the blazing sun in our back garden.

Sampling as a creative tool was killed stone dead when the East European pressing plants got the software to check your masters and ask had you clearance for everything. After. That the breakbeat scene went away. No point repurposing and sampling became cover versions, because you had to pay up big cash.

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In light of the copyright discussion, I think it’s high time we had a superhero called Happybirthdayman.


Have to watch this later - but isn’t copyright and trademark 2 different things?

Shouldn’t the old MEDIA (comics, TV, cartoons, etc) fall into public domain, even if the character is still owned by DC for new stuff?

I was under the impression that the old and brilliant Max Fliecher Superman Cartoons were public domain now.

keeping the characters in the hands of a few risk-averse corporations produces a string of largely mediocre, risk-averse properties like Batman vs Superman

Or it produces the Kevin Feige–run MCU juggernaut o’ goodness, largely enjoyable, risk-averse properties that manage to both kick ass and hew to studio and genre conventions. Dunno that you’d get that kind of consistent quality outside of a studio (one’s feelings about the same aside). Dunno if artsy films like Foggy Nelson’s Lost Weekend are worth the tradeoff. Dunno if summery tentpolish action movies really need to be edgily reinvented or whatever.

Still waiting for all those post–Conan Doyle Holmes masterpieces because crowdsourced public domain DIY mashupzzzzz…

On the other hand, Deadpool practically had to be pried out of Fox’s clutches, and it turned out better than any of the X-Men movies since X2. If the characters were public domain, maybe that movie would have been made much, much sooner.

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I would rather those who created it and and their families have more control than people who did not have a hand in their creation. It seems creators always get placed on the bottom rung.


Sure and then there’s Avengers: The Ultron Paradigm, which is the best argument against big studio no risk films.

Don’t confuse people with facts.

Yeah, but see how companies are using trademark to enforce/extend/simulate copyright. E.g. with public domain works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. And a company like DC could have characters in the public domain while still maintaining some control over modern interpretations of the characters via trademarks (in addition to the actual content of the new movies/comics being under copyright).

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Yeah, I get that. And I saw the video finally.

I dunno. The thing is Batman isn’t a “dead” franchise. They actively make not just new content in the form of comics and cartoons, but of course the merchandise. So no, they won’t EVER do something like give up the character rights.

I still think the CONTENT - the original MEDIA should eventually fall into public domain. I mean for the most part 1) The people clamoring for the old stuff is small and 2) you made your money already on the original sales and reprints and can continue to make probably better quality reprints than others, and 3) if anything it would just increase people liking the character and look into the modern stuff you are making today.

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Mediocre, possibly (opinions are strong on both sides of the argument), but BvS was anything but risk-averse. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. To kick off our belated and ambitious scheme to create a shared DC comics universe, let’s give Zack Snyder $250 million to make a dark, humorless, dour, highly-stylized, 3-hour-long character study of Batman and Superman when they’re at their most depressed and feared. Frank Miller and Alex Ross fans will probably dig it. Sure, we could make a fun feel-good popcorn movie like Avengers to get people excited, but nah, let’s try feel-bad.”

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Yeah, the video failed to explain why the heck DC would want to let these comics go into the public domain - having the Batman (and Superman) monopoly definitely makes them more money.
If the original content falls into the public domain, then the character - or at least the old version of that character - does too, though. So anyone can make “classic” Batman content. Or content inspired by classic Batman and actually call it “Batman” - which differs from all the Batman-alikes in comics only in that they use the name. Of course, then you get into the nasty trademark battles of having the character potentially look too much like DC’s more recent versions and…

Eh, I don’t think it works that way. Like I said, the old Max Fleischer cartoons of Superman are public domain, IIRC. You can just make copies of the old cartoons and put it on DVD with out getting sued.