comics & copyright, but not comics-specific

I don’t know how many of you are aware of the explosion of copyright discussion surrounding Emily the Strange and Nate the Great (and the alleged intersections between the two).  I read probably more than my share of comics news, and most of it entirely passed me by.

At issue, does this character:

equal this character:

(The one in the top right corner).

It’s an interesting case if you’re interested in copyright, copyleft, creativity and the like – Shaun outlines a lot of the salient points here – both about the situation itself, and about the discussion of the situation.

Because there’s a picture going around that looks like this –


He argues, really well, that to focus on that physical similarity is to miss the point, or what should be the point:

However unoriginal her figure maybe, Emily is not a direct copy of Rosamond. She is an adaptation. Most importantly, the two characters exist in entirely different contexts. The fact that Rosamond is a supporting character in someone else’s narrative while Emily is at the center of her own storyworld, is, or should be, the most salient point in this discussion


Copyright should afford people, and notably the actual creators of a work, protection against actual plagiarism, or at least a right to proper attribution, but that is a far distance from being able to lock up all references to, pieces of, or derivations of a work, especially in, or something very much approaching, perpetuity. The fact that creators and other copyright owners feel compelled, and empowered, to assert such rights is a threat to continued creativity.

Lots to think about.

7 thoughts on “comics & copyright, but not comics-specific

  1. An indication of just how crazy out-of-control the concept of property has got, ASCAP is suing AT&T because when their customers’ phones ring in public places and they bought a musical ring tone, they neglected to purchase performance rights that are necessary should the phone rings in a public place. Now, that’s crazy.

    There’s an interesting working paper from the Harvard Business School that argues copyright is not an incentive for creativity. Ironic to read the same day that a jury decides Jammie Thomas should pay nearly 2 million for downloading some songs. That’s foaming-at-the-mouth righteous anger, there.

    1. Sara: That’s a good question. The similarities in the prose are arguably more striking (or damning) than the the ones between the images. However, the text is not quite identical, “hungry or sleepy” vs. “tired or happy”, but even if it were, the recontextualization of the words – page in a book vs. a standalone sticker – would seem to justify a fair use argument for Emily. More importantly, and this is something Anne-Marie and I talked out in thinking about your question, the similarities in the images reproduced above, and all over the internets right now, does not, by itself, make the case for Emily writ large as a copy of Rosamond. I think that Emily’s creators have discontinued the use of this image in response to the controversy, but their character has clearly grown beyond whatever inspiration is evidenced above.

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