Rave : 2001 : Marvel Lawyers Lay Low

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Date: Aug 5, 2001
Next: JMS Tackles The Big One
Prev: Spider-Girl Loses The Plot

Well, I was planning a huge analysis of the state of the current Marvel Legal Situation as regards fan-sites... but in fact, it's all gone kind of quiet.

Here's my friendly blow-by-blow summary of what went on. This is just my impression.

  1. Using other people's art and writing stuff is illegal.
  2. Marvel need, for some obscure legal reason, to be able to demonstrate that they pursue their intellectual property rights. Maybe if they don't actively pursue it, then it makes it hard to defend it it court later if they really have a good reason.
  3. The Marvel guys really did want to do the right thing by fans, and the lawyers wrote up a "right to use" agreement, with probably everybody having the best intentions, in their own minds.
  4. As was absolutely guaranteed to happen, they screwed it up and it was a public relations nightmare. What else did you expect?
  5. News, reviews, and research sites (like SpiderFan) are completely safe. There is a "fair use" defense which covers us pretty well - plus, Marvel isn't THAT stupid to want to shoot down their own free publicity. Even if we did give Howard Mackie a hard time now and again.
  6. Your average fan site is probably OK for now. Just think about what you're doing, and ask yourself it it seems reasonable.
  7. Those morons that were posting entire scanned comics got shut down. They deserved to be. That would have happened in either case.

So, I think it's all gonna die down. I've just had a look, and the GeoCities Spidey sites are back up. Marvel goofed, and I hope they learned a lesson. I hope that the few sites that were going way beyond "Fair Use" learned a lesson too!

As a final note on the subject, here's a basic summary of Fair Use, courtesy of Steve - a Stanford Law Student. After very reasonably covering his butt by pointing out that he's just a student, and that with free advice, you get what you pay for, he says...

As a non-commercial site, you should be well-covered under the "fair use" doctrine. The theory behind the doctrine is that information comsumers (e.g. comics readers) have the right to use the information they acquire in ways that neither directly compete with the copyright owners, or adversely affect their ability to profit from their copyright. For example, using a digital image of a cover of a comic to accompany a review of that issue would certainly be fair use. However, reprinting the entire issue, even if for free, would be a violation because that would hurt the comic publisher by providing an outlet for potential readers to avoid paying for the material (essentially, the Napster problem).

Note that this "competitiveness" standard is subjective. Playboy can stop people from posting individual Jenny McCarthy pics because they are marketable commodities in and of themselves (if you want them, join the Playboy Cyber Club, as the logic would go). However, posting a few comics panels (say, the famous "Face it Tiger..." scene) to illustrate a point would be fine, because that is not a complete entity, or even substantially complete. Marvel's market position would be unharmed.

The scope of fair use is even broader for well-known entities like comic characters. Basically, there is no need to join the Marvel program if you do not want to. If Marvel went after you, they would almost certainly lose.

So, that's all I'm going to say on the matter, unless something new and exciting happens on that front. But I sure hope it doesn't!