Retaining Copyrights To Cartoons
Cartoon copyrights recently came to mind while back tracking through old tear sheets of Editor & Publisher magazine’s Syndicates/News Services articles. This one in particular has an interesting article on three well known cartoonists that recently re-negotiated their contracts with their respective syndicates. Recently – being dated in that article – October 20, 1990.
Cathy Guisewite was actually a Michigan native when signing her ‘Cathy’ syndication contract. It looks as though all three had gotten control of their own characters which looked like it was catching on among most cartoonists as the copyright ownership issue was front and center. Good for Guisewite in standing up for her copyrights and not letting a syndicate manipulate her.
This shows that even big syndicates understand the importance of a creator’s rights and how it’s the actual feature (the cartoon characters) themselves that generates income for even the syndicates. It’s also interesting to note the potential of cartoon copyright infringement is enforced to a greater extent by cartoonists who are proactive regarding their work and syndicate contracts. The longer a strip runs not to mention the number of papers the strip or panel appears in will give the creator a lot more bargaining power….which was the case way back then.
Trademark cartoon characters appear in many newspapers
Both ‘Cathy‘ and ‘For Better Or For Worse‘ had over 1,000 clients and Jim Unger’s ‘Herman‘ cartoon was running in 350 papers and the number of papers running Herman is/was still impressive – even for today’s standards.
I was a bit gobsmacked at the fact syndicates had antiquated clauses in contracts even back in 1990 though. Basically where the creators fought against the provision of equitable sharing of syndication and licensing revenues and the reversion of licensing rights going back to the syndicate if performance plateaus were not met.
If performance plateaus were not met, this can’t be blamed on the cartoonist though? He/she cannot guarantee what editors will like a feature nor can they predict how readers will accept and receive a cartoon panel or comic strip. It’s great knowing these cartoonists kept the copyrights to their own features and controlled specific outcomes base on certain clauses in their respective contracts.
Retaining cartoon copyrights should be reviewed by all cartoonists who are serious about their work. The issue of copyrighting one’s own work and cartoon features is constantly evolving, especially now in this digital world. Cartoonists who are seeking to copyright cartoon characters need to look no further than their own drawing boards because now once they create an actual cartoon, they instantly own that cartoon.
Cartoon copyrights provide stability to creators
However, once the image goes into a commercial platform, it offers itself for potential abuse and misuses and only those cartoonists (Like Guisewite etc.) who have good contracts and a good grasp of copyright knowledge will have greater stability in the cartooning business. Copyright free cartoon images for commercial use is a misnomer in so many ways. Only those images that are indicated being in the “public domain” and noted as such, can be used without the creator’s permission.