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What is Comic Book Law?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

     By Gamal Hennessy

Lawyers are similar to doctors in terms of specialization. While some of us have a general practice, most of us focus on a particular area. These areas of expertise allow for greater focus and better results for our clients. That’s why you wouldn’t let your podiatrist perform brain surgery on you and you wouldn’t trust your criminal case to your real estate lawyer. Unique industries require unique professionals.

            I refer myself as a comic book lawyer, but this isn’t an official area of law. Unlike corporate or constitutional law, you can’t study comic book law in any law school that I know of. It is debatable if there is such a field. This post is my explanation of what comic book law is and why it is important for both creators and the industry. I’ll also offer up the names of three other comic book attorneys who are helping to protect the business and financial elements of this art form.

A Hybrid Legal Specialty

What I refer to as comic book law is a focused form of publishing law that also deals with broader aspects of entertainment law. Comic book law shares similar issues as other types of publishing, including copyright law, contracts, and first amendment issues. Where it differs is in aspects of production before the book is made and associated products after the books are released.

A Cooperative Legal Specialty

Most novels and poems are written by a single individual. Most comics are created by a team of at least two and as many as seven people. Some independent comics are published as the joint effort of a dozen or more professionals (See You Need Two Teams to Publish a Successful Comic). The collaborative nature of comics means that like other cooperative forms of art, contractual relationships between the artists are as important as the agreements between the artists and the distributors. (See All For One: Artist Collaboration Agreements). Whether you’re talking about work for hire contracts, joint ownership agreements or something in between, the ownership of every comic requires a unique type of contract (See What Kind of Contracts Do You Need for Your Comic?). Children’s book publishing also has aspects of collaboration between the illustrator and the author, but the variation of relationships between comic book creators is more varied and complex.

A Commercial Legal Specialty

            Comics are also a unique form of publishing based on the life that the characters and stories enjoy off the page. Crossover media, merchandise and derivative products have been part of the comic book business since their infancy (See Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle). Very few novels or prose works generate substantial collectibles or merchandise, unless it’s a children’s book or the book is licensed to become a film. Comic characters generate merchandise as a natural by-product of publication (See Making Comics Isn’t Really About Making Comics Anymore).

From a business and legal standpoint, this means that comic book law needs to consider the intellectual property implications of both copyright and trademark law (See Image and Story: The Role of Copyright and Trademark in Comics), film, television, and video game licensing (See Comics are Thriving in TV and Movies) as well as business formation for new publishers in the market (See The Benefits of Forming an LLC for Your Independent Comic). In many cases, the business and financial impact of the secondary market is more complex and more lucrative than the book itself.

An Established Legal Specialty

            Comics have been a staple in international entertainment for decades (See In France, Comic Books Are Serious Business), but like comics in America, comic book law isn’t given the same deference as other areas of law.  But this viewpoint ignores the importance of comics as an industry and the ongoing work of a host of legal professionals.

In 2017, comics were a two billion dollar industry not counting movies, merchandise or related products (See Comic Book Sales by Year). There are more than three hundred active comic book publishers in America (See List of Comic Book Publishers) and many of them have comic book lawyers on staff or as outside counsel. Specifically, these three gentlemen have been practicing and/or writing about comic book law for several years.

Comic book law is not as respected or well known as corporate law or criminal law. It is an adaptive and complex field that requires specific expertise and understanding about the industry. Every comic creator and publisher needs to find the right lawyer to protect the rights and revenue for their work. A unique industry requires unique professionals.

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE AN ISSUE WITH YOUR COMIC PROPERTY, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.