UK Comics Copyright
I’ve received a rather full and very legalise response from Intellectual Properties, the Government body assigned to deal with these matters.
I have also asked a solicitor who deals in copyright law to clarify points for me.
Firstly, as no actual creator contracts were signed, and the method was hire and pay, the creators of characters/strips are copyright holders. In the case of IPC Media it did not create or have contracts signed by creators of characters it says it owns. The reason for this is that Amalgamated Press, IPC, Fleetway, Maxwell Pergamon Publishing, etc., were bought and sold off with absolutely no contact with creators or contracts created:
“Where a person works under a ‘contract for services’ he may be considered by the courts to be an independent contractor and his works may then be considered to be commissioned works. When you ask or commission another person or organisation to create a copyright work for you, the first legal owner of copyright is the person or organisation that created the work and not you the commissioner, unless you otherwise agree it in writing.”
I created and drew some characters that IPC Media claims it owns. The work was done for Fleetway/Maxwell Pergamon and earlier, Odhams. I got a cheque within thirty days but there was never ever any signed contract.
In the case of Odhams it seems Fleetway/IPC wanted the humour strips BUT again never signed or contacted creators to negotiate a deal. The companies simply said “Its ours!” because that is the way they worked -creators were considered as nothing more than disposable work-for-hire.
Apparently, it is recognised that the UK comics publishing industry was very much a closed shop and publishers kept themselves to themselves, hence publishing UK creators work under license around the world without creators permission or payment of creators -the case of Don Lawrence who discovered his work was making Fleetway/IPC money in Europe is cited. Lawrence successfully sued and won the rights to The Trigan Empire, etc..
Re. European law it seems UK publishers only have rights to the comics titles they published but not the characters:these belong exclusively to the creator(s).
This means that Titan, reprinting IPC material such as The Spider, Charlies War, etc., under license from IPC are only able to do so with express permission and signed contracts with the creators. There is no “He/they are dead now so its ours!” clauses.
Wildstorm (part of DC) could, therefore, be quite open to legal action for money from creators whose characters were used in Albion, Thunderbolt Jaxon and Battler Britton, etc.. This may well be why nothing more has been published featuring these characters.
To lay a copyright claim on a character(s) then IPC Media must produce its proof to copyright ownership in the form of the contracts it signed with the creators.
When it comes to the images of real persons used in its comics -it lays claim to all of them therefore they are claiming responsibility- the response I got from the copyright solicitor was:
“Get me the names and addresses of the relatives of those people if their family member drawn and included in a comic aren’t still alive -this is a goldmine!”
erm. I hope the right people are taking notice.
My contract of purchase with the creator of certain Odhams characters “Though very basic and rough is signed by both parties so in law they are yours.”
So, should IPC attempt to block certain projects of mine I am now fully armed with Intellectual Property legalese that means I can go to court to defend my usage.
If you, or someone you know, created characters for any of the incarnations of Amalgamated Press, IPC, Fleetway, Maxwell Pergamon Publishing, etc., etc., then tell them they can claim copyright ownership -and legally seek monies for reprints.
The UK comics industry is finally beginning to have the light of law shone on it and its revealing a lot of nasty things.
Its no good threatening people with legal action or scaring off printers because people must be made aware they are protected from bullying.