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Should Creators Have More Rights Over Their Characters?

Work for hire limits the rights a creator has over a given property, but should that change?

Making comics is not an easy job. Aside from the countless hours, sweat, frustration and tears a creator might put into a project, there is still the question of the amount of recognition and ownership any given creator should hold over a given property. A writer may work on a comic book series for an entire decade, make strides in a character's development, and still never be fully recognized for his efforts. The recent settlement between writer Neil Gaiman and co-founder of IMAGE Comics Todd McFarlane over ownership of SPAWN supporting characters Medieval Spawn, Angela and Cogliostro where Gaiman previously obtained "50 percent owner of content in two Spawn issues and the first three issues of a Spawn spin-off" got us thinking about creator rights and ownership. If a creator is hired by an individual or a publisher to create a character, should they be given some of the royalties of the work even in a "work for hire" situation?

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Work for hire means that the person who is hired to create a work is not always the individual recognized as the author of that work and therefore won't hold any ownership rights over the work he or she created. Take for example a computer program. A computer program will always list the name of the company (Microsoft, for example) but it may not list the names of the developers who built the program. Additionally, the developers of said program will receive a payment for the work they were hired by the company to do, but they may not receive royalties for the number of programs that are sold.

The same thing goes for comic books. A company or creator might be hired to create a character or a concept. That concept or character might rise in popularity, but if the project was work for hire, the creators won't likely ever see royalties. The creator also won't hold any ownership over the properties and they will not be able to reprint the work. Essentially, even though they did the work, they do not own it.

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For example; during his time at Marvel, Rob Liefeld created some of the most memorable Marvel comics characters. However, even though he created massively popular characters, Liefeld holds no ownership of them. Working for hire at Marvel means Liefeld relinquished his copyright ownership over properties he developed for the company. For example, when Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza first created Shatterstar for Marvel comics, he never intended for Shatterstar to be gay.

“… I have nothing against gays, I have gay family, nuthin’ but love here...Ditto gay characters if that’s what their true origins are. As the guy that created, designed and wrote his first dozen appearances, Shatterstar is not gay. Sorry. Can’t wait to someday undo this. Seems totally contrived.”

Although Liefeld may not have originally written Shatterstar to be gay, since Marvel holds the rights to the character, there is nothing that Liefeld can do about it. That is of course, until he gets the chance to write the character again. Even if you don't agree with Liefeld over Shatterstar's sexual orientation, he does present an interesting idea. As Shatterstar's creator, Liefeld obviously holds some sentiments regarding the type of character he envisions Shatterstar to be. As of now that quote, the portrayal of Shatterstar did not line up with the vision of his creator, but does it matter?

Should the character's creator have any rights over the character, even if the he or she was under a work for hire contract? Should Liefeld, or any creator that has done work for hire, get some kind of recognition or hold some kind of ownership over a given property? What do you think? What kind of rights do you think a creator should have?