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We’ve only got one story to cover on today’s Comic Book Club News, but it’s a big one. Writer Bill Willingham has declared that Fables, his long-running comic book series, is in the public domain. DC Comics has responded by essentially saying, “no way.”
Fables declared public domain by writer Bill Willingham.
DC says nope.
This is Comic Book Club News for September 18, 2023.
Bill Willingham Declares Fables is Public Domain, DC Says No Way:
Normally we cover three stories here on Comic Book Club News. But today, there’s only one item to talk about: Bill Willingham versus DC Comics.
In one of the more public comic book fights in recent memory, writer Bill Willingham declared on Thursday, September 14 that Fables, his comic book series with DC Comics, is now in the public domain. In response, DC Comics essentially said: “no way.”
Here’s the short version of this, because it’s all highly complicated legal stuff. Willingham, who co-created Fables with artist Mark Buckingham, was unhappy about both payments and the stilted release schedule for the book — something he went into at length in a Substack post. According to Willingham, the property is creator-owned, but not creator-controlled. This means anything Willingham does with Fables needs to go through DC Comics. Anything anyone else does is, according to Willingham, fair game.
In his words: “As of now, 15 September 2023, the comic book property called Fables, including all related Fables spin-offs and characters, is now in the public domain. What was once wholly owned by Bill Willingham is now owned by everyone, for all time. It’s done, and as most experts will tell you, once done it cannot be undone. Take-backs are neither contemplated nor possible.”
DC Comics Responds To Bill Willingham’s Fables Move:
DC Comics, meanwhile, disagreed with this assessment. They released a statement saying, “The Fables comic books and graphic novels published by DC, and the storylines, characters and elements therein, are owned by DC and protected under the copyright laws of the United States and throughout the world in accordance with applicable law, and are not in the public domain. DC reserves all rights and will take such action as DC deems necessary or appropriate to protect its intellectual property rights.”
Further complicating matters are two points. The first is that copyright law is deliberately opaque, and easily manipulated by corporations. It’s entirely possible Willingham is in the right here by the letter of the law. But it’s also possible that by the time this all shakes out, DC Comics will be able to crack down on anyone making a Fables fan film, or trying to publish their own Fables comic.
The second point is that while Fables is technically an original property, the plot follows fairy tale characters who are already in the public domain, and remixes them into new scenarios. While it’s true that Bigby Wolf is a character from Fables, he’s also, purposefully, The Big Bad Wolf from a number of other stories you may be familiar with. So Willingham declaring them public domain is very similar to Michael Scott yelling “I declare bankruptcy.” Technically he is putting Fables in the public domain; but for the most part, it already was.
Needless to say, this story is just getting started. We’ll update more on this as it develops.
Comic Book Club News Outro:
For Comic Book Club News, I’m Alex Zalben. And I’m also in the public domain. Like, I’m putting myself out there, you know? Pretty cool.
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