IP Infringement is a little vaguer than Copyright theft or perhaps Copyright theft is that bit more obvious. I guess it depends how you look at it. Much of this article will focus on Judge Dredd as an example, for obvious reasons. This article is mostly just my opinion, freely given in good faith.
Copyright of written material doesn’t strictly have to be registered to protect the original. So long as there is enough proof of when the writing was done. Take for example a story written and published on an online blog. Such as Trench Coat and Trilby by Steve Hargett. The story is there, on record. It is mine.
However it is a story only. Someone could write a script and turn it in to a comic and sell it as their own without altering the plot. I could fairly easily show that it is using my IP, a Judge may or may not agree. I’d like to think that they’d agree. Imagine though that a film comes out set in the same historical period and with similar themes. Chances are I’d be on a hiding to nothing, it could even just be coincidence.
I wrote a story about humans with tapes of their memories that could be placed in a clone body before 2000AD had Rogue Trooper and his bio-chipped buddies. No one other than my father read that story, I was about 10. Coincidences happen.
Then you get things like RoboCop, clearly based on Judge Dredd. Yet it is different enough to say ‘inspired by’. Of course also the money behind it was more than that behind Judge Dredd I should think. Then there is Hardware, a movie that pretty much lifted a 2000AD story, Shok!, scene for scene.
These things may or may not harm the original creator, though if anyone wants to make a Trench Coat and Trilby film I’m happy to talk contracts. Some things however can be more troublesome.
Judge Dredd of course fell foul of IP infringement and there are four episodes from the epic The Cursed Earth that have never been reprinted. I own the original comics so I’ve read them (several times) I can see why Burger King & McDonalds might be upset… but it is just parody and in USA wouldn’t have broken the law but of course 2000AD is a British Comic.
KFC are sort of in those un-reprinted pages. KFC threatened to sue a British Pub over the use of the term Family Feast. The Tan Hill Tavern, the highest pub in England, served a turkey dinner under that name. It was settled out of court in the end, in the favour of Tan Hill Tavern. So this turned out to be free publicity for a fine pub, I’ve stayed there (it has rooms for guests) and can recommend them highly.
I use a badge that looks a lot like Judge Dredd’s to head this blog. I’ve branded my blog, styled after Dredd. I originally used a program designed by Michael Carroll called Badger (do go check it out!). Michael is one of the current writers of Judge Dredd for 2000AD and currently has a story in Judge Dredd Megazine. In 2013 I decided to print a reviews booklet to hand out free at Thought Bubble. I e-mailed Mike and asked him if he minded, he said it was fine. He then offered to make a higher res version for me and that is the one at the top of my blog.
It isn’t my IP. Judge Dredd is Rebellion’s IP. They know all about this blog – I write Previews and Reviews of their output, they send me preview Pdfs to do so. I’m free publicity, I review Marvel, DC, Image, Boom!, Renegade Arts, etc, etc, all under a banner that screams JUDGE DREDD! I make no money in any way, everything here is written for free and I pay printing costs for the review booklet and I hand that out free.
The owners of Rebellion are fairly understanding on these matters. Look at Judge Minty. A fan film that followed all the important steps. They let Rebellion see what they were doing. They funded everything themselves (don’t try to fund a 2000AD fan film on Kickstarter or similar, they won’t like you doing that). 2000AD got behind the idea, not financially, and they have spoken very highly of the film. Indeed Planet Replicas got the license to make replicas of Judge Dredd’s comic uniform because of Judge Minty. Look around on my blog, I talk about Judge Minty A LOT.
There is a bit of controversy over Superfiend that Adi Shankar was behind. I don’t know much about Rebellion’s opinion on this one. However his closeness to Dredd (2012) does give a confused impression of whether this film was official or not – it was not. Personally I don’t think it is too harmful, but I can see where the confusion comes.
This sort of thing can damage reputations.
Other things are however directly harmful, you’ll not see a link to my main example in this article.
There is a big market for 1/6th scale Action Figures. One of my work colleagues, a friend who I associate with outside work, is a collector. He has several times expressed a desire for a 1/6th scale Action Figure of Judge Dredd as depicted in the Dredd (2012) movie. There is almost no official merchandise from that movie. There is however a ‘bootleg’ figure, it isn’t sold under the title ‘Dredd’, obviously. But it is exactly the same uniform, screen accurate. 2000AD have deals with several companies for Action Figures of their comic designs. 3A do a line, such as Judge Death and Mezco a Judge Dreddq both are the smaller 1/12th scale. But this Dredd (2012) version is not licensed, no money goes to Rebellion, none to John Wagner or Carlos Ezquerra (the creators of Dredd who love Judge Minty by the way)
That figure is harmful. It is being bought in large numbers bt fans because no official figure exists. Well the damage is obvious to me, no company is going to buy a license, which adds cost to the production, to make a figure where the market has been swamped. No matter how many people say they’ll buy it if a licensed one was made. I can’t hold with this idea at all, and yes my work colleague has talked of buying one and I’ve pointed out why he shouldn’t. I’m not ending a friendship over this but he knows my opinion, very clearly stated.
What causes quite a lot of upset is of course that it is fans buying these kind of items. Fans that want something so bad they’ll buy a knock off. They feel insulted when people knock them for it and to a degree I understand that. My friend really wants this thing as I say.
Then there is the issue of fan made products where money changes hands. This is causing quite some upset among Judge Dredd fans at the moment. As I don’t want to fuel any dispute I’m not linking to anything to demonstrate it. Those that are involved know about it all, those even marginally associated will know. There are models and pieces of costume based on the film that are readily available on a number of sites and through Facebook. I haven’t personally seen any comic versions for sale in this way.
Does this damage the IP? Well that is hard to say. Seeing people in cosplay as Judges in conventions is great, it gets attention and in many ways is ‘free publicity’ for 2000AD and the Dredd film. However again the amount of such product available would probably put off many that might do a licensed version. Whether these sales are at (or close) to cost or make a small profit is academic. The creators of Dredd won’t get any cut nor will the IP owners, they won’t get any licensing either.
Arguments often revolve over the fact that the film makers own the IP of their designs and haven’t sold licenses. Some of those that make replicas bought original; props and have made copies. As far as I understand buying a prop doesn’t give IP rights unless the sale specifically includes those rights. I can’t see a happy answer to this situation.
My message here is perhaps to think a little before buying something. Is it fair to the people who created something to have others make a profit from their creation without sharing a cut? If no profit is involved is it still alright? It gets grey in that area for me. If I knew the IP holder had an issue with something that’d make it easier but for obvious reasons they don’t publicise any ‘Cease and Desists’ they issue.
I do hope that in the cosplay area things can remain civil; it is supposed to be fun. So licensed or unlicensed uniforms should hopefully still be seen in the same place. Home builds are very often seen as open homage to the IP holders, there are plenty of those out there too. I’m trying to make a homebuild myself, from scratch – more on that (if it works) later.