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Author Topic: Legal Stuff  (Read 9949 times)

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Offline Alectric

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Legal Stuff
« on: January 12, 2010, 07:53:49 PM »
Not sure where to post this, but I wanted a thread for asking and answering questions about the basic legal issues of webcomics.  I don't sell anything, so my questions won't cover everything, but there are some things I would like to get advice about.


My copywright note at the bottom of my website was basically crafted by copying what I saw elsewhere.  From my understanding, it should be in the form of:

[A] (is) copywright/(c) [year started]-[current year](, all rights reserved.)

"A" is either the name of your comic, the name of your comic "and all related content," or something along the lines of "this website."

(c) is supposed to be the copywright symbol, though I have seen it typed this way.  All other parenthesized areas I think are optional.

Is this correct?  Is there more importance in certain specific phrases than I am aware of?  Is simply having this text on your site sufficient, or does it actually have to be backed-up in some way?


I'd also like to ask about including certian information on the comic pages themselves, such as the website's address, its own copywright statement, and the author's signature.  I'm guessing the address is purely optional, but what about the other two?  I haven't been including them, and I worry if I should.  Are they strictly necessary?  If not, what are the advantages to having them?


That's what I'm most concerned about, but there's certainly more to cover, such as using copywrighted sprites/characters in your comic, mentioning brand names (I've mentioned "Scrabble" in my comic, is that okay?), and if you hold contests with prizes on your site, what sort of legal disclaimers you should have, or legal obligations you have.


Hopefully these can get covered satisfactorally, and a lot of us can benefit from it.

TakaComics

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2010, 08:55:00 PM »
(c) is supposed to be the copywright symbol, though I have seen it typed this way.  All other parenthesized areas I think are optional.

Just to cover this: Hold ALT and press 0169 on your numpad. This will insert the copyright symbol after you release the ALT key like so: ©

For other characters, refer to this list - http://www.tedmontgomery.com/tutorial/altchrc.html

Offline Pete

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #2 on: January 12, 2010, 10:33:47 PM »
(c) is supposed to be the copywright symbol, though I have seen it typed this way.  All other parenthesized areas I think are optional.

Is this correct?  Is there more importance in certain specific phrases than I am aware of?  Is simply having this text on your site sufficient, or does it actually have to be backed-up in some way?

I'd also like to ask about including certian information on the comic pages themselves, such as the website's address, its own copywright statement, and the author's signature.  I'm guessing the address is purely optional, but what about the other two?  I haven't been including them, and I worry if I should.  Are they strictly necessary?  If not, what are the advantages to having them?

ALWAYS SIGN YOUR WORK.  I can't stress that one enough.  I've heard horror stories of people having their unsigned work stolen, and it's just easier to head that one off at the pass with a simple signature.

The basic rule of thumb with copyrights is that once you create something, it's yours.  Make sure that copyright notice is on all pages that your artwork shows up on.  You can go even further and register with the Library of Congress, but it's not completely necessary.

That's what I'm most concerned about, but there's certainly more to cover, such as using copywrighted sprites/characters in your comic, mentioning brand names (I've mentioned "Scrabble" in my comic, is that okay?), and if you hold contests with prizes on your site, what sort of legal disclaimers you should have, or legal obligations you have.

As far as I know (and I'm not even close to being anything resembling a lawyer), using sprite characters is fine unless you are trying to make money off of them (putting them on t-shirts, etc.).  In regards to using brand names, I believe that it's all right as long as you are not using them in a derogatory manner (and even then it would probably take a lot to get a company to issue a cease and desist on your comic).

I can't say much about the contest question because it's something I've never done, but I would think that it works the same as writing up a contract - make sure your terms and disclaimers are laid out clearly before anything takes place.

Offline Alectric

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #3 on: January 12, 2010, 11:22:32 PM »
ALWAYS SIGN YOUR WORK.  I can't stress that one enough.  I've heard horror stories of people having their unsigned work stolen, and it's just easier to head that one off at the pass with a simple signature.

Well...all my pages have my comic's title logo on them, which I think would make it clear enough who they belong to.  I'm sure it's possible to edit out the logo if the person is determined, but a signature could be edited out too...

I'd just rather have it this way, because I don't have any really good place to discretely put my signature.

And frankly, I don't see why anyone would want to steal one page from my webcomic and claim it as their own. ???

But for any other artworks, if I ever do any, I'll be sure to sign.

Offline LegendWoodsman

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2010, 01:35:33 AM »
Is this correct?  Is there more importance in certain specific phrases than I am aware of?  Is simply having this text on your site sufficient, or does it actually have to be backed-up in some way?

From my understanding (non-lawyer disclaimer), you are the copyright holder whether you declare it or not. Your main responsibility is to enforce the copyright. Step one of enforcing it is the declaration (for example: SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC) this lets people know that you have ownership (that you didn't use it from someone else) and if they were to use your work in the future, you have documentation that you came up with it first. Registering it legally adds bonus points if it ever goes to court.

If you are doing a sprite (Megaman or Mario) comic, you cannot declare copyright over the character designs. Depending on how strict the original owner (Capcom or Nintendo) wish to enforce their copyright, cease and desist letters can be sent. Using another's property for profit can increase your chances of receiving a letter. The phrase "all rights reserved" means just that. They reserve the right to everything about their property.

You may wish to look into Creative Commons. They advocate "some rights reserved" where the owner can choose what they feel is permissible and what isn't. Maybe you want your audience to make photocopies and share it with their friends... but you don't want them bootlegging books for profit. You can specify that you are giving those permissions and not allowing other profitable enterprises to use your work.

Even if you didn't mind that someone photocopied your work to share, your copyright means that they have to seek express permission before going about it. If you don't enforce your copyright, you may lose it.

Offline Alectric

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2010, 02:21:20 AM »
I can't help but wonder what a cease and desist letter actually looks like.  Does anyone have a good example to share?  It'd be nice to know how to specifically recognize one, or to even be able to write one ourselves if we ever have the need.

Offline Matt

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2010, 02:34:24 AM »
I can't help but wonder what a cease and desist letter actually looks like.  Does anyone have a good example to share?  It'd be nice to know how to specifically recognize one, or to even be able to write one ourselves if we ever have the need.

I don't know about anyone else here, but I would never write a legal letter, especially one that is usually quite harsh and threatening, myself. I'd just suspect that since I'm not a lawyer, I'd be opening myself up to lawsuits because I don't have a full grasp on what I'm doing.

Offline Rob

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2010, 02:05:01 PM »
Oooh! Something I can actually contribute to with a measure of authority.

LOL.

To be blunt, you could take a semester long course on copyrights at your local university or law school and even if you were also there to complete your Juris Doctorate you wouldn't know all there is to know about copyrights until you practiced law in the field of copyrights for several years... and even then you would only know most of it.

And any post I make here on the subject would be long and confusing and most of you wouldn't read it.

Here are two resources, if you are really interested in the subject that might give you a basic (very basic) overview and if, upon reading these you have any questions about what you have read or something that wasn't covered I'll do my best to answer them.

http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/   - FAQ from the Government Copyright Office.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright   - Good ol Wikipedia where the truth or lies may be found. Read at your own risk.

Also Alectric that symbol you made with the parenthesis (c) is not a copyright symbol and I doubt it would be recognized as one legally. But as I'll point out in a moment it's really a moot point.

Trevor that link to all the secrets of my keyboard is FRICKING AWESOME! I've known you how long and you are just sharing this treasure trove with me? What else do you know? Do you know where Atlantis is? The lost books from the Library at Alexandria? Are you holding out on me? So awesome. And so bookmarked.

There is something called a "Poor man's Copyright" which, back when I was in a band we used to use. We would seal documents up and ups, fedex or mail them back to ourselves, family or lawyer for safe keeping. As long as they remain sealed you can admit them in court as proof your work existed before the creation of someone who is either suing you for infringement or you are suing for infringing your rights.

But the answer to almost all your questions and the subsequent responses is found in these two FAQ entries from the Government site I linked above:

Quote
When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”

Defending your copyright zealously is really the key to remaining copyrighted. You can lose it if you don't attack those who try and usurp it. But as stated in the quote above you cannot sue someone without registering the copyright. So while your copyright is supposedly yours as soon as you create and present your work you cannot defend it without registering which can leave you in a pickle if you don't have other things like dates and signatures documented (thus my advocacy for the poor mans copyright).

As far as the sprites and using others logos and images thing. That brings in things like fair use, satire and parody. I'm don't know if you are familiar with the webcomic "VG Cats" but Scott Ransoomir and I have had a couple discussions about why he hasn't been sued yet. If you see the T-Shirts he sells you will be surprised to find how many Pokemon, anime and video game characters he references in his drawings and jokes on the shirts he sells for profit. I told him the last time I saw him I couldn't believe he hadn't received a "cease and desist" letter from Nintendo yet.

A lot of people talk about fair use, satire and parody as if they are armor they can wear to protect themselves from things like copyright infringement, slander, libel, loss of income from work product and anything else copyright holders than throw at someone. Satire, Fair use, and Parody are in fact not a protection from these charges. They are what is known as an "affirmative defense."

A common example of an affirmative defense is "Self Defense" or "Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity."

In court, even in civil court the defense is innocent until proven guilty and it is the burden of the plaintiff (or the prosecution in criminal cases) to prove the injury (prove the lost income, damage to reputation, whatever... and this brings up something interesting in these kinds of cases... in that a judgement for the plaintiff can sometimes result in a victory in name only because even if they can prove you violated their copyright if they cannot show some tangible damage to their reputation or financial loss they will win but be awarded very little, if any money). But an affirmative defense stipulates to the charges of the plaintiff (agrees that what the plaintiff is saying about the defendant using his copyright is true) and shifts the burden of proof to the defendant that the use of said items is legally permitted by Fair Use, Parody or Satire.

And that can be difficult and you usually need a pretty good lawyer to pull it off. Which is why when most folks get a cease and desist letter they consult a lawyer and then fold like a card table.

Which is also why sending a cease and desist letter can be very useful and necessary in defending your copyright. But before you send any letter threatening legal action you want to make sure that a) you can and will follow through with the threatened course of action and b) aren't overstepping the bounds of what you are threatening.

You wouldn't for example, want to tell someone to stop using one of the characters from your comic on their T-Shirts or you will come over to their house and and kick their asses. You wouldn't want to threaten have them arrested either. You don't have the authority. And even if you feel you are due a cut of the money they are making from selling shirts with your character on them you can't say "and I'm going to sue you and take your house and car!"

You want to keep everything businesslike and use professional terms like "if you do not cease the use of our copyrighted images SSS Corporation will have no recourse but to seek legal enforcement of our copyright as well as seek legal  remuneration for damage to our property, lost income and associated legal costs."

Anyway, I hope that clears up a thing or two.

Maybe I should write an article on the subject.  :D

Offline Rob

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2010, 02:06:23 PM »
Also I'm moving this to General Webcomics Business Topics as it does fit the category description.  ;)

Offline LegendWoodsman

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2010, 07:29:02 PM »
An anecdote of the poor man’s copyright:
 
Some years back, I wanted to register my copyright and with some research I found out about the poor man’s copyright. I sealed the documents in an envelope, walked down to the corner post office, bought a stamp, and dropped the envelope in the mailbox. I guess I live too close to the post office since the letter-carrier delivered it the very next day, without a postmark.
 
Of all the times for bureaucracy to fail.  :)

Offline Rob

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2010, 10:14:17 PM »
Yeah that's why we would send it to each other's house or to our lawyer. LOL.

Gotta love the postal system.  ::)

Offline ZingerSteve

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2010, 03:30:44 AM »
Here's a great resource for managing your work in a legal manner, called Myows.  (I think it's supposed to be pronounced meow, like a cat.)  https://myows.com

And here's a nice writeup about it, giving a good overview of what it does.  http://bit.ly/7DlRIf

Essentially, it's online copyright management software.  You upload your art which gets documented - maybe like a digital poor man's copyright.  But they take it further and help you deal with issues should you come across someone using your work.  The site will generate a C & D letter for you, using the information you've entered about your work and the offender.

The site recently launched so I imagine they have a host of other legal services in the work for content creators.  It's a site/service to keep an eye on for sure!
(Coming soon!) Check out the Zingerding Blog.

Offline Knara

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2010, 07:42:23 PM »
Defending your copyright zealously is really the key to remaining copyrighted. You can lose it if you don't attack those who try and usurp it. But as stated in the quote above you cannot sue someone without registering the copyright. So while your copyright is supposedly yours as soon as you create and present your work you cannot defend it without registering which can leave you in a pickle if you don't have other things like dates and signatures documented (thus my advocacy for the poor mans copyright).

I don't mean to allege that you don't know what you're talking about, because by and large you're mostly spot-on.  However, in this part you're correct in the practical sense and wrong in the technical sense.

All copyrighted work, upon initial creation, is automatically copyrighted for the current legal term (70 years after the author's death, or 120 years for "works for hire") and cannot be lost by the holder unless 1) the original copyright claim was false (that is, I can't "re-copyright" Mickey Mouse) or 2) the rights holder explicitly transfers the copyright to another party.  The first part of that is because the US is a Berne Conventions signatory, and the latter you can thank the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act

Your statement about you need to defend it or lose it is correct for trademarks (and, IIRC, patents to a lesser extent).

However, in the practical sense you are correct in that registering will make it infinitely easier to win a legal battle concerning a work, but it is not true that you can lose a copyright just by not defending it.  That's why Abandonware is still copyrighted, even though the owner of that copyright may be disputed (or unknown).  Or, as another example, any book still within the legal term of copyright since their initial copyright registration (as is common with publishing, and, technically, anything since its creation so long as it is within those same term limits) are still under copyright. 

That being said:

An anecdote of the poor man’s copyright:
 
Some years back, I wanted to register my copyright and with some research I found out about the poor man’s copyright. I sealed the documents in an envelope, walked down to the corner post office, bought a stamp, and dropped the envelope in the mailbox. I guess I live too close to the post office since the letter-carrier delivered it the very next day, without a postmark.
 
Of all the times for bureaucracy to fail.  :)

Doesn't matter, even if it was postmarked it's too easy to unseal and reseal an envelope without being obvious.

IF YOU THINK SOMETHING IS IMPORTANT ENOUGH THAT YOU NEED THE LEGAL PROTECTIONS OF COPYRIGHT, SPEND THE MONEY TO GET IT REGISTERED.   >:( >:( >:(

Seriously.

Sorry if this is a confrontational way to put in my first post to the forum, but the details are the devil in this topic.

Offline Knara

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2010, 08:02:14 PM »
Here's a great resource for managing your work in a legal manner, called Myows.  (I think it's supposed to be pronounced meow, like a cat.)  https://myows.com

And here's a nice writeup about it, giving a good overview of what it does.  http://bit.ly/7DlRIf

Essentially, it's online copyright management software.  You upload your art which gets documented - maybe like a digital poor man's copyright.  But they take it further and help you deal with issues should you come across someone using your work.  The site will generate a C & D letter for you, using the information you've entered about your work and the offender.

The site recently launched so I imagine they have a host of other legal services in the work for content creators.  It's a site/service to keep an eye on for sure!

19. Applicable law and jurisdiction

19.1 This Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Singapore.

19.2 Subject to clause 20, the parties hereby consent and submit to the jurisdiction of the High Court of Singapore, for the purposes of any legal proceedings arising from or in connection with this Agreement, notwithstanding that such proceedings may otherwise be beyond the jurisdiction of such court.


No thanks  ;D

Also, note they have a long list of things you can't upload, including a work that "contains nudity, excessive violence, or offensive subject matter or contains a link to an adult website" and "depicts the exploitation of persons in a sexual or violent manner" (i.e. if you'd written "Sin City" you can't use their website).  Not to mention "violates the privacy rights, publicity rights, defamation rights, copyrights, trademark rights, contract rights or any other rights of any person".  What exactly constitutes those various rights is different in every country.  i.e. In Britain, "but it's the truth" is *not* will not protect you against slander and defamation charges.

I have no idea what constitutes any of those in Singapore.  Do you?   

You're better off spending the money getting the copyrights registered with the US Copyright Office.

Offline Rob

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Re: Legal Stuff
« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2010, 09:12:32 PM »
Knara,

it is MORE true that failure to defend trademarks and patents can lead to loss of those items but I don't think I am technically incorrect in asserting that failure to defend a copyright can also lead to the loss of the copyright.

Specifically, if a defendant can show a pattern of indifference on the part of the copyright holder the defendant can challenge copyright. My best example would be if Marvel let dozens of folks publish and sell for profit (without any sort of contract or written consent) a Spider Man comic but when I make and sell MY Spider Man comic they assert Copyright and try and recover damages from me.

If I can show that they allowed similar or even better more egregious copyright violations knowingly and did not seek to assert copyright in those instances I can show a pattern of indifference and perhaps use due process to escape paying damages. If I counter sue I might even gain control of the copyright if I can show that their indifference was implied consent and that implied consent lead to a financial investment on my part that I have a right to recover.

It's tenuous for sure but juries and judges have been convinced of crazier crap than that. It all comes down to what you can prove. I know that this was a huge concern of Microsofts when everyone started making Halo Machinima. Because they had contracts with some folks to legally allow them to make and sell the stuff other people were doing it too and they knew about it and in some cases let it go. But eventually they brought the hammer down and came out with a sort of modified creative commons license that allowed people to use it (the Halo characters, themes, images, music and what have you) as long as they did not profit from it. And they even set up a system for people who wanted to license their creations for sale.

But you are right I may have oversold it in my original post.

I will reiterate though that you have to have your copyright registered if you are going to assert copyright in court. It won't make it easier as you said. It is required. You literally cannot file a lawsuit asserting copyright infringement without first registering the copyright.

As for your thoughts on the poor man's copyright. Honestly I'm a creative guy. I've written hundreds of songs and short stories and comics. If I registered everything I created I would be in the poor house right now. Even if I did it myself and eschewed the lawyer those fees add up.

As I'm sure you know because you seem really sharp on this stuff, the civil court only requires a preponderance of the evidence. Stuff like self addressed and shipped media and documents can be used quite well in court. We liked to photograph the envelopes before we sent them and we sealed them up crazy with packing tape that would destroy the envelope if it were opened. Then we had stamps and labels applied over the tape so that those shipping and date marks essentially "sealed" the documents inside since the envelope and labels could not be removed without destroying the envelope.

But these things are supporting evidence to your "word." And when it's your word against someone else's every bit helps. So I wouldn't dismiss it. If you cannot afford to go the registration route the poor man's version is useful and the more complex you make it the more substantial it will serve as proof of your copyright. People love a good story and if you can get on the stand and talk about how you used half a roll of packing tape along with a dozen of your daughters unicorn stickers to seal of the envelope before UPS-ing it to your sister who has a fire proof safe... well that's the kind of tale that wins judgments.

But if you can afford it. Of course, get your stuff registered. ;)