Causal Essay ~ Tony Shilling

Every Villain Always Explains His Plan

When America’s own superheroes cannot even rescue their creators, the world may truly be at loss.  Marvel’s continuous and stringent efforts to thwart its artists from making a personal profit drawing the characters they were employed to illustrate in comic books grow ever intensely.  The Avengers used to battle on the Helicarrier of S.H.I.E.L.D. or in the streets of New York City in the shadows of Stark Industries Tower, and now fall as a part of a losing battle in a United States courtroom.  And yet, perhaps the real reason the heroes are losing this war is from hiding behind a shield and being too afraid to arm with a bow; artists have a weapon that would, and has, go(ne) unnoticed in court: Marvel has yet to state why it is they truly care about commissioned work.

Not to confuse, we know why Marvel is going to trial.  An artist draws a character for a fan at a convention, and the character happens to be published by Marvel; as such, MArvel owns the character and the copyright, and the artist is making personal profit on a copyrighted character.  Prior to this, that was in fact the main focus: is this really a set-in-stone law?  Parody and Fair Use clauses in the United States Copyright Office, which permit usage of copyrighted characters  and brands to a degree, could very well be used to fight the charges.

Now, on the other hand, this is a matter of morals and intent.  Yes, at some level the artist broke the law.  But what they did was draw a very quick sketch (usually without any ink added) of a Marvel character, not something slanderous.  If Gabriel Hardman drew Hawkeye flipping off Captain America, then yes, Marvel’s character has been used in a manner harmful to the brand.  But sketching a commission for a little child at his first convention and then facing a Marvel lawsuit is something Marvel will have to explain.  There-in lies the problem: Marvel has not explained anything.  The main correlations with a lawsuit under a copyright claim is that something harmful or slanderous has to been to a brand, hence the suit.  Yet, as stated, so far all of the trials have been grounded from events not hurtful to Marvel at all.

The most recent case of Marvel suing Gary Friedrich, creator of Ghost Rider (following Friedrich suing Marvel) was inspired by his selling Ghost Rider merchandise, art, and book collections, most products with his name printed on them by Marvel themselves at a convention.  Marvel made the executive decision that Friedrich was not authorized to sell the merchandise and thus had no purpose in profiting from them.  Both Marvel and the court decided that this small profit was enough of a concern, and that Freidrich would pay Marvel $17,000 and cease boasting himself as the creator of Ghost Rider.

But what the concern was, remains the question.  In cases like Friedrich’s there is always a victimized party, and Marvel seems to be taking that label quite willingly, while Friedrich is forced to pay money he does not have and was trying to earn in the first place.  Yet each time Marvel initiates one of these actions, no one asks what the harm exactly was.  If it sounds like I have restated just this point a few times now, it should; this is exactly what Marvel is doing: reusing the same thesis without explaining why.

The difference is that Marvel understands that they are not providing evidence, and no one in the courts has asked so it has not been an issue necessary to be brought up.  That is because, in realistic terms, no harm has come to Marvel.  Now, they absolutely have the right to sue based on copyright infringement; in fact, in all honesty, this is something I am fairly proud of.  Marvel knows its rights, knows what they own, knows when they are being bent or broken, and has the moxie to act on what is theirs.  In a twisted way, it is a degree of justice.  When it use these abilities to bully its own employees out of their passions and earnings, while keeping them employed, well then things are disgraceful to the entire medium.

The real harm from all the commotion is Marvel sullying their own good name; the majority of reactions has been negative in Marvel’s light, and with good reason.  Marvel has managed to succeed and prosper from the misfortune of artists and ignorance.  If the concept of a commissioned piece of artwork actual does have any lasting impact on anything related to Marvel in the slightest, then it is much more probable that it would be positive: a child is more likely to want to read more about the hero they just received a drawing of, and will one day become a fan and buyer of the Marvel brand.  Even adults who attend conventions provide positives: the fan is purchasing the art more-so because she is a fan of the artist and then after decides what character she wants, and will of course continue to purchase the latest issue of Avengers.

Marvel is not wrong in what it is doing, but the law is just not the case any longer.  Values that Marvel had prided itself on were family, teamwork, loyalty, and above all a positive outlook; while DC took the road of controversial storylines and a grittier sense of justice, Marvel maintained its bright colors and smiling faces with stories for everyone to enjoy.  Unfortunately, if Marvel continues down the bleak path that it has put itself on, the colors will fade and run quickly and it will not only push away the loyalty of its artists, but of the fans as well; commission work is not a source of harm to Marvel in the slightest.  The issue is morality, and Marvel has no excuse for its actions beyond the fact that  it has the ability to initiate a lawsuit.

Works Cited

Copyright and Fair Use.” ASHE Higher Education Report 34.4 (2008): 31-52. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

Cieply, Michael.  “Court Ruling Says Marvel Holds Rights, Not an Artist.” New York Times.  Web.  28 July 2011.

O’Neal, Sean.  “Marvel Forces Ghost Rider Creator to Stop Saying he’s Ghost Rider’s Creator.”  The A.V. Club.  10 Feb.  2012.

Worth A Thousand Words: The Images of Copyright.” Harvard Law Review 125.3 (2012): 684-759. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.

Murphy, Sean Gordon. No More Unauthorized Artwork.”  DeviantArt.  14 Feb. 2012

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1 Response to Causal Essay ~ Tony Shilling

  1. davidbdale says:

    Haven’t read it yet, but I love the title. The question is, will Marvel, like all good comic villains, explain its plan BEFORE exeucuting its plan, thereby giving the hero a last chance to thwart the plan? 🙂

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