How To: Create A Comic/Part 11: Legal Issues and Other Stuff

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There are some important legal matters that should be discussed when doing your comic.

Fan-Made Obligations

First and foremost, when you’re doing a fan-made comic based on material coming from an MMORPG like “City of Heroes”, you are doing so for the benefit OF the MMO. You are using their settings, their characters, their environment… essentially it is all theirs. Legally, it is all theirs.

You know that “Terms of Agreement” page that you approved so you could play that MMO? That legal agreement says that the characters that you create and use in the MMO are really theirs. They own it. You don’t. Therefore whatever creation you have that comes from that material has to be done with their approval.

This can lead to some serious problems if you have an original character that you later decide should be marketed to mainstream publishers. If you create a book with names or references to characters in the MMO, even if you were the one that came up with the name or appearance, you still legally do not own any of the rights to those characters. The company that owns the MMO does.

Fortunately the folks at NCSoft and Paragon Studios value fan-made creations as a way to further promote the game, and they do give tacit approval to you using the game for your works as long as there is obvious credit given and make note that it is a fan-made derivation based on their material.

Logos and Disclaimers

To help satisfy the legal requirements of that tacit approval, it is suggested that you include the following items in your fan-made comic:

  • NCSoft Logo (the company owning the MMO)
  • Paragon Studios Logo (the programming group contracted by the company owning the MMO)
  • City of Heroes Freedom Logo (the MMO logo)
  • Legal Disclaimer (lengthy legal-speak)

The disclaimer should specify that your work is an independent fan-made not-for-profit derivation of that MMO, acknowledge the company that owns the MMO and the logos they use, and to acknowledge that they own all legal rights to such material, not you.

Note: The same general principle should apply with other MMOs that you use for your fan-made creation. Be sure to include the MMO’s logo, the owning company’s logo, the publisher’s logo, and make sure your legal disclaimer reflects the same ownership.

Comics Code Authority Seal

As mentioned in a previous segment, some creators make the mistake of including the official seal of the Comics Code Authority on their covers to give the illusion of authenticity.

The Comics Code Authority was created by the publishing companies during the fear-mongering repressive days of McCarthyism as a way for prevent government-imposed censoring of their works. It was an independent body that publishers had to submit their works to in order to get approval to use their seal. The restrictive standards of the CCA were eventually abandoned by the mainstream publishers in place of their own advisory standards, with all rights and ownership of the seal itself turned over to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

It is strongly advised that you NOT use the Comics Code Authority stamp on your fan-made publication as it is a trademarked symbol.

NOT For Profit!

An essential requirement that kills interest in fan-made comics for some people is the requirement that your hard work be for free!

Remember that your City of Heroes fan-made comic is still the legal property of NCSoft and Paragon Studios. As such, they are the only ones that get to decide if anyone should make money off their property.

Some comic creators will make the mistake of including a price with their comic cover, wanting to replicate the look and feel of the mainstream publications. But this could actually be very risky for the creator, because even if they don’t make any money, the cover gives the illusion that it is for sale, and thus would be a violation of the Terms of Agreement.

Cross-Brand Obstacles

It is one thing to do a comic series that is based off an MMO with the implied permission of said MMO.

But what happens when you decide to create characters that cross over into multiple MMO realities?

Let’s suppose you have a character based in one MMO and you move them to another MMO. Let’s suppose a City of Heroes character moves into the world of Champions Online.

Legally your character is now the property of two different MMO providers, and both will claim ownership of that character. It is important that your legal disclaimers in your comic reflect the ownership of every material provided by both MMO providers. This can get rather lengthy if you use different source materials.

Another obstacle to consider is if you use your character in other reference sources, such as the Titan Network for City of Heroes or the PRIMUS Database for Champions Online. The reference administrators will often delete any cross-branded material over legal concerns. It is therefore important that you limit any information on a cross-branded character to the MMO in question.

In other words, if “Hero X” starts out as a City of Heroes character and then goes to Champions Online, the resource information for Champions Online should only have references for “Hero X” in that MMO, and only the vaguest of references to City of Heroes.

So what does this mean for your fan-made comic?

1. Your fan-made comic ideally should be based on one MMO at a time. This will save time and headaches, especially when it comes to the necessary legal disclaimers.

2. Make sure that the correct MMO information is provided for your comic, especially pertaining to the cover.

3. Try to avoid using other MMO material in that issue, even in flashback. For instance, screen images of characters or scenery in one MMO appearing in an issue based on material from another MMO. The exception to this would be if the material in question is created independent of the MMO in question, such as a 3D rendering or artist-created images.

4. Try to use the most minimal of references to other MMO characters or locations. For instance, Paragon City in the City of Heroes can be referred to as “that Rhode Island City” or “that OTHER city”. Millennium City in Champions can be called “that Midwest City” or “that Great Lakes place” or “Ex-Detroit” (in reference to the city the MMO took over). Thankfully some MMO providers, such as The Secret World, use common city names like New York City. Again, the exception here is to locations or characters that you yourself created.

5. If possible, if you need to do a flashback using characters seen in another MMO, see if you can replicate those characters or scenes in the current MMO, or to replicate it using non-MMO resources like 3D rendering.

6. When promoting your comic or character in other MMO resources, it’s always best to limit any and all references to the issues that pertain to the source MMO in question. In other words, if your comic issue is based in City of Heroes, don’t try to promote it in resource sites dedicated to Champions Online.

Moving Onward

Well, there's nothing after this, so...