HA General Discussion

Public Domain Heroes
LuchaCoffee at 4:02PM, Nov. 24, 2014
posts: 329
joined: 4-24-2007
I've been looking into Public Domain heroes and I think a lot of them are pretty cool and could make for interesting flavor for HA (Maybe not entirely as heroes but as famous heroes or what have you)
But I'm not too sure as what I can and can't do with them since Public Domain and copyright are pretty confusing at best.
Any thoughts?
I like my horror films like I love my burgers…Full of Cheese!!

irrevenant at 3:59AM, Nov. 25, 2014
posts: 779
joined: 1-13-2007
I'm not a lawyer but my understanding is that, the following are the main “gotchas” with respect to using Public Domain heroes are:


1. Other versions or interpretations of the public domain characters may not be fair game.  For example, the novel Frankenstein is well out of copyright and anyone is free to retell the original story or create new stories involving those characters.  However, the novel doesn't describe what Frankenstein's Monster looks like.  The mental image we have of Frankenstein comes largely from the Frankenstein films.  And those are owned by Universal Studios who have a reputation for suing anyone who uses a version of the monster that resembles theirs (beware if your Frankenstein has (a) green skin, (b) scars on his forehead, © a protuding forehead, (d) a flat-top head or (e) bolts in the neck)  (https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2011/10/24/how-universal-re-copyrighted-frankensteins-monster/)  So be careful that you only reference the public domain source.

2. Trademarks.  These are separate to copyright and are about protecting product identification and preventing fraud or confusion in the marketplace.  I'm not allowed to launch a zombie comic or TV series called “The Walking Dead” because the owners can quite reasonably argue that my comic will be confused with theirs, I will unfairly benefit from their reputation and I will potentially damage their reputation (if my comic isn't very good).  There's generally some grey around the precise term too.  If I produce a brand of tissues called “Cleenex”, there's still potential for confusion and therefore grounds for lawsuit.  You can't identify your product using someone else's trademark.  For example, until very recently, both DC and Marvel had characters called “Captain Marvel”.  But since Marvel have trademarked the term DC can't name a comic Captain Marvel (which is why their Captain Marvel title was called “The Power of Shazam”) or even use the character's name on the cover of a different comic (see for example: http://www.comics.org/issue/58606/cover/4/ or http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/File:Superman_v.2_216.jpg).  Eventually DC just renamed the character “Shazam”.  Symbols can be trademarked as well as words (good luck selling a shoe with a ‘swoosh’ on it, for example, and I bet you anything the “S-shield” is trademarked).  

There's so much IP out there that it's hard to ever be 100% sure, but if you're careful of those two issues, you should probably be okay.

Shastab24 has been using the public domain character Madame Fatal for a while now, so she may have more to say on the matter.
last edited on Nov. 25, 2014 4:00AM

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