The Merry Marvel Marching Copyright Machine

The Merry Marvel Marching Copyright Machine

Posted by September 4, 2009 One Comment

One of the pragmatic oddities of the comic book artist’s income stream is the ability to sell original art. Despite often featuring characters that are copyright to a publisher, once the art is returned, the artist is allowed to sell that art to collectors, though not the right to reproduce it.

Furthermore, companies mostly turn blind legal eyes to the practice of sketches and commissions, where artists are paid to draw one-off drawings of company-owned characters, without asking permission of the company nor having to pay them any of the proceeds.

Further still, some artists make prints of these drawings, and sell them signed and numbered. Again, the owner of the character generally is distracted by a small piece of lint on the floor.

This pragmatic solution enables comic book creators to make money inbetween company jobs, keeps them happy and in practice and probably has some small promotional element for the characters. John Byrne may spend much of his time on his boards sniping at Marvel and DC, especially what the publishers have done to the characters – but he still keeps drawing them as commission pieces and posting them online.

So this is the status quo. Legally, it’s a potential problem, but as long as anyone isn’t silly about it, the current position can be maintained and most everyone is happy.

But over the last few years there have been a few test murmurings. DC staffers asking big name artists not so sell prints of their work in line of a DC booth at conventions. Marvel artists contributing to charity projects seeing their work dropped because it showed a bare bottom. The very slight stirrings that something was up.

Well, now the stirrings are growing on eBay.

Sherry Leak is a sketch artist who has worked officially on sketch cards for Marvel Masterpieces III, Archie Comics March of Dimes cards and more, with work on Zombies vs Cheerleaders and The Phantom lined up.

She also draws and sells rough sketches of characters on eBay, including the following.
ebay2ebay3ebay4

Sherry found her eBay account suspended as a result of Marvel contacting eBay. Previous listings are shown but details have been deleted, as have her outstanding listings.

Trev Murphy and Veronica O’Connell are two sketch artists from Ireland who also sell their work on eBay who found their account closed after years of successful business. These are examples of their work;

ebay5ebay6ebay7

When making enquiries with eBay as to the nature of this account suspension, they were told;

The rights owner or an agent authorized to act on behalf of the rights owner, Marvel Entertainment, Inc., notified eBay that this listing violates intellectual property rights. When eBay receives a report of this type of violation, we remove the listing to comply with the law.

This action occurred in the week before the planned Disney buyout was announced. As has been noted regarding the retrieving of Spectacular Spider-Man TV show rights from Sony last week, it looks as if a little internal house cleaning happened at Marvel, just to make everything nice and today before the announcement.

Could this be the case here? And if so, can we expect cracking down on all sorts of activities? Will Marvel still feel able to ignore copyright violations as it has done before?

UPDATE: A Marvel employee informs me that the timing isn’t an issue, and that this is regular practice every week, especially for amateur artists creating “sub par” work. Which is an interesting twist, quality control being an aspect in which eBay sellers get taken down…

(Last Updated September 4, 2009 4:28 pm )

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About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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