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January 11, 2008 3:07 PM   Subscribe

What should I know about trademarks and copyrights before launching a web comics site?

Hi AskMe!

I'm a couple weeks away from launching a web comics site. I've got my hosting, Wordpress theme, equipment and production plans all nailed down. What I don't know much about, however, are trademark and copyright issues. How do I secure my intellectual property?

I realize that by posting my work online, some measure of cutting and pasting and sharing is inevitable. Indeed, I can only hope my comics generate so much interest. What I'm concerned about, however, is maintaining control of my unique characters, illustrations, stories and designs.

I don't plan on making money initially, but if the site catches on, then I have every intention of selling merchandise such as t-shirts and coffee mugs and so on, as well as print spin-offs of the online comic. I've been cooking up a lot of these stories and characters for years, and I want to make sure that I retain ownership of them.

I live in Washington State, if that makes a difference. This is a very new venture for me, and I know next to nothing about copyright law. Any advice is appreciated. I want to move forward with this project as soon as possible, but I don't want to lose my investment because I forgot to cross a 't' or dot an 'i'.
posted by EatTheWeek to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
United States copyright law (Title 17, United States Code) is actually fairly readable to the layman. Chapter 1 and Chapter 5 are like good portions to start with.
posted by kidbritish at 3:20 PM on January 11, 2008

Here's another page on the US Copyright website specifically about the Visual Arts. One thing worth pointing out:

Under the present copyright law, which became effective January 1, 1978, a work is automatically protected by copyright when it is created. A work is created when it is “fixed” in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. Neither registration in the Copyright Office nor publication is required for copyright protection under the present law.

posted by burnmp3s at 3:41 PM on January 11, 2008

Yup, for better or worse your creations are copyrighted the instant you create them. Trademarks are a different matter, however, so IIRC you'll have to register the title of your webcomic to give it trademark status.
posted by the dief at 4:06 PM on January 11, 2008

I'd encourage you to register your comic with the U.S. Copyright office, it's easy to do and not expensive at tall. While copyright protection has been automatic for decades, registering your work offers several advantages, particularly for one that you intend to give away for free. Registering your work prior to someone infringing upon your work has several advantages if you have to bring a suit to enforce your copyright, including the possibility of an award of statutory damages and attorney's fees in a successful litigation. Otherwise you may only be eligible for an award of actual damages and lost profits.
posted by RichardP at 4:27 PM on January 11, 2008

Stanford has an excellent web site on copyright and fair use.
posted by grouse at 4:44 PM on January 11, 2008

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