Marvel Comics Check, 1974

Marvel and DC Comics are both notorious for how they screwed over the artists and writers who produced so many iconic comic book characters.

Marvel Comics went so far as to put a rights disclaimer on the back of the checks that it gave to its employees–cashing the check meant agreeing to forego all rights.

Below is a scan of a check from 1974 from Marvel Comics to artist Dick Ayers. The endorsement area of the check reads,

By endorsement of this check, I, the payee, acknowledge full payment for my employment by Magazine Management Co., and for my assignment to it of any copyright, trademark and any other rights in or related to the material, and including my assignment of any rights to renewal copyright.

Marvel Comics Check, 1974
Marvel Comics Check, 1974

The Pandemic License

The Pandemic License is a temporary license designed to allow educators to “read an author’s works via video and audio over the internet while students are learning from home during the COVID-19 crisis.”

The rights to do this do not last forever – this is something that teachers can do for as long as the COVID-19 pandemic is happening.

Well, I guess a temporary license from major corporations to . . . check’s notes read aloud is better than no permission to read aloud . . .

If you think The Pandemic License is a great idea, you might also be interested in The Pirate Bay License.

Magic Tricks and Intellectual Property Laws

The BBC has an examination of the intersection of magic tricks and intellectual property laws.

Magic has a long history of magicians both protecting their methods and ripping off the illusions and methods they can figure out.

There have been some pretty brazen examples in the past – perhaps none more so than the case involving the world-famous US magician Harry Kellar at the end of the 19th Century. He was so keen to work out how British magician John Nevil Maskelyne was doing his levitations, that he went to the show several times – armed with binoculars.

When that failed, he marched right up to stage at the key moment to take a peek. He still couldn’t work it out, and ended up bribing another magician at the theatre to provide him with sketches. Kellar performed this particular act around the world for years afterwards.

The article notes that for a number of reasons, magic tricks fall outside of most intellectual property laws. The obvious possibility is that how an illusion is created is a sort of trade secret, but in most countries it is incumbent about a company or individual to prevent a trade secret from becoming widely known which, the BBC notes, is a bit difficult for magicians giving regular public performances.

Magicians could seek–and a few have obtained–patents on their inventions, but of course the problem there is that the mechanism of the invention has to be published with the patent. The BBC cites on magician who did patent an illusion only to find that the legal costs for protecting the patent from infringers was too high to make this an effective strategy.

According to the BBC article, a Netherlands court found that while magic tricks themselves were not protected, the particulars of a given magician’s stage show potentially were.

In the United States, there is currently a pending lawsuit filed by Raymond Teller, of Penn and Teller, against magician Gerard Dogge. According to a Hollywood Reporter story on the lawsuit,

Teller accuses Dutch entertainer Gerard Dogge of ripping off his copyrighted magic piece called Shadows, putting it on YouTube as an illusion entitled The Rose & Her Shadow, and offering to reveal the secrets for $3,050. The litigation promised to help determine the level of protection that magicians have over their tricks, and to prevail, Teller would need to show that his trick is eligible for copyright protection and that Dogge’s piece is substantially similar. To do that, he’ll first need to perform the hard chore of showing that Shadows is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which the work can be performed,” as the U.S. Copyright Office requires.

Unfortunately, it looks unlikely that Dogge will actually show up for the civil trial, meaning the court won’t likely get to rule on the underlying copyright claims.

Don’t Click *This* Link If You Live Between *These* Imaginary Lines

In 1920, H.G. Wells published The Outline of History — Wells’ take on the unfolding of human civilization that was especially harsh on religion and superstition. In response, Hilaire Belloc, a devout Roman Catholic, wrote a series of articles attacking The Outline of History which he compiled into 1926’s  A Companion to Mr. Wells’s “Outline of History”. Wells responded in the same year with a book-length rant, Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History”. Both books are apparently mostly invective that shed little light on the issues actually being discussed.

I wanted to read Wells’ response to Belloc, and it turns out the book can be for free legally on the Internet. But there’s a slight problem —  I live between the series of imaginary lines that constitutes the United States. As the University of Pennsylvania’s website explains,

The title you have selected (Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History”) is a post-1922 publication by an author who died more than 50 years ago. Such titles are in the public domain in many countries, particularly those outside the US and Europe. However, this title most likely remains copyrighted under United States law, where works copyrighted in 1923 or later can remain under copyright for up to 95 years after publication. It may also be copyrighted in European Union countries and other countries where copyrights can last longer than 50 years past the author’s death. (Europe, for instance, uses a life plus 70 years term.) Follow this link for more details on copyright laws of various countries. Below, we provide author death dates and other edition information, so that you can check this information against the terms of your country’s copyright law.

Do NOT download or read this book online if you or your system are in the United States, or in another country where copyrights for authors with the dates shown below have not expired. The author’s estate and publishers still retain rights to control distribution and use of the work in those countries.

Since the maintainer of this index resides in the United States, he cannot fully check these links for validity. Please inform [email protected] if any of the links do not work. You may also be interested in the more than 1 million books listed on The Online Books Page that can be legally read online or downloaded in the US.

I love the last paragraph — that the University of Pennsylvania can’t legally check to see if the link works or not. I have to confess, I went ahead and broke international copyright law and clicked on through to the link (I did think about those Foster’s beer commercials first, though, so its almost like I was in Australia anyway.)

So do you, dear reader, dare to follow my scofflaw ways? If so, H.G. Wells awaits.

Is Intellectual Property Murder?

Kevin Carson has a provocatively titled article — Intellectual Property Is Murder — looking at the likely impacts of data exclusivity requirements on drug applications in India that are a result of trade agreements with the European Union.

“Data exclusivity” means that clinical trials conducted before marketing by the company that originally produced the drug cannot be applied to meet government safety or efficacy requirements for the generic version. Each separate company that wants to market a generic version of a patented drug will first have to conduct its own clinical trials as a precondition. That directly contradicts one of the arguments commonly put forward by patent apologists — that patents are an antidote to trade secrets because they require openness as a condition of obtaining a patent.

“Data exclusivity” is a death sentence not only for those in India who can’t afford to pay tribute to the owners of state-granted patent monopolies, but also for the people of such countries as South Africa and Brazil, where the availability of cheap medicine for treating HIV depends on the output of India’s generic drug industry.

Carson also does a nice skewering of traditional big pharma justifications for patent protection of medication (although some of his arguments are a result less of patent protection than the unintended consequences of the drug approval process).