Singling Out Marvel's Film Rights Head Scratchers
Comic Books, Film
Welcome to the two-hundred and fiftieth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and forty-nine.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Movie Legends Revealed to find out the truth behind the first meeting between screen legends Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks! And what kind of “special” effects did James Cameron use to have Linda Hamilton’s character meet a duplicate of her in T2?
COMIC LEGEND: A comic book creative team had to actually sue to get a credit when their comic was adapted for a TV series.
In 1999, Fox came out with a new television drama called Harsh Realm based on the early 1990s Harris Comics comic book mini-series by writer James Hudnall and artist Andrew Paquette.
The comic book was about a detective in the future who is hired to enter a virtual reality program to find the missing son of a wealthy couple. The virtual reality program is a game where people can die for real, and the missing teen has become a bit of a tyrant in the game.
The TV series was about a soldier (in the general “present”) who is sent into a virtual reality program with a team of soldiersto bring back a guy (Terry O’Quinn from Lost fame) who has become a tyrannical General (think Hearts of Darkness) in the game.
Here’s a few double-page spreads from the comic (click on them to enlarge)…
Here’s a shot from the TV series (plus the DVD cover of the complete series)…
At the end of the opening credits, the show is titled “Created by Chris Carter”….
Harsh Realm was a “creator-owned” series by Hudnall and Paquette, but their rights did not extend to the actual licensing rights (Hudnall certainly has made a note of that, and has made sure to get the licensing rights in the future on creator-owned projects), so Harris Comics had free reign to do what they wanted, licensing-wise.
The only mention of the comic at ALL in the credits was at the end, when Harris Comics got a “Special Thanks.”
However, since Hudnall and Paquette still did, you know, CREATE the work, they pushed for a credit.
And come on, while Carter clearly made dramatic changes to the initial comic book premise, the basic idea is still extremely similar (it even kept the darn name the same!!!), so you’d be hard-pressed to say that the TV work was not BASED on the comic.
However, the Writer’s Guild of America has a very specific definition of what “Created by” means when it comes to television shows.
From their own guidelines:
The WGA-determined “Created by” credit also determines the writer’s eligibility for separated rights in a series. The “Created by” credit on a series is not determined until there is a series order. There are two ways a writer becomes eligible to seek “Created by” credit on an original series:
a. a writer writes a format for the series; or
b. a writer receives “Story by” or “Written by” credit on the pilot episode of the series.
“Separated rights” are very important in the world of television and film, as it provides a great deal of protection for writers and their work when working with studios.
So, as you might imagine, the WGA was a bit more interested in protecting the rights of one of their members (and a famous member, at that) than the rights of two non-member comic book creators, so they argued in court that it was impossible to give them a shared “Created by” credit due to WGA gudelines.
The court felt, though, that since Hudnall and Paquette were not members of the WGA, then they should not be held to the same standards as WGA members, and once you take the WGA out of it, it was misleading to say that Carter was the “creator” when it was clearly based on the comic.
Ultimately, though, the court DID acknowledge that “Created by” was a unique credit in the world of television.
So, in Paquette v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 54 U.S.P.Q .2d 1286, 2000 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 2134 (S.D.N.Y.2000), the court ruled that Hudnall, Paquette and Harris Comics were to be given an “Inspired by” credit directly following Carter’s credit at the beginning of the show (Fox originally offered a credit at the end of the episode).
This was a major ruling, because it determined that the Lanham Act (what you sue under for trademark/copyrights and other stuff, like false advertising) superseded the Writers Guild itself, even when it came to credits.
Sadly, the series was canceled basically right after the ruling (not because of the ruling, though – ratings weren’t great), but still, it was an important victory for creator rights!
Thanks to the Entertainment Law Reporter for info on the case! And go check out James Hudnall’s web site (here)! He’s an interesting guy! And if you ever get the chance to pick up old issues of Harsh Realm, it’s well worth your time (I’m actually featuring Harsh Realm for Friday’s “Cool Comic” in the Year of Cool Comics).
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