DC Comics has declared that Fables is not public domain, despite what the comic’s creator Bill Willingham says. In a statement released Thursday, Willingham said that he was releasing Fables into the public domain after disputes with DC, which publishes Fables under its Vertigo and DC Black Label imprints.
In a statement released on Friday, DC emphatically denied that Fables would be in the public domain, and maintained that it retained ownership over the series and its characters.
The Fables comic books and graphic novels published by DC, and the storylines, characters, and elements therein, are owned by DC and protected under the copyright laws of the United States and throughout the world in accordance with applicable law and are not in the public domain. DC reserves all rights and will take such actions as DC deems necessary or appropriate to protect its intellectual property rights.
This statement by DC is a harsh rebuke of Willingham’s previous statement, where he said, “I still own 100% of Fables. But now, every man, woman, and child in the world, along with anyone who’s ever been born until the end of time, also owns 100% of Fables.”
Who Owns Fables? It’s Complicated
Willingham made the announcement Thursday on his Substack page, These Foolish Games. He said that he is the owner of Fables, while DC had an exclusive right to publish the comics. Despite this, Willingham claimed that DC later interpreted their contract to mean that it owned Fables outright. He added that when he was brought on to write more Fables for the series’ 20th anniversary, “their lawyers tried to get me to do the work as ‘work for hire’ which would have placed Fables ownership in their hands, and made me simply a hired gun. Note that no money was offered for these additional rights.”
The question of who exactly owns Fables and can publish material is a bit murky. In a follow-up statement made on Twitter Thursday, Willingham said that his decision to make the work public domain does not include the right to republish previously published materials. He also said that any new Fables material that fans now create can’t be reprinted by someone else. But DC clearly disagrees, as it says it will take action against anyone else publishing new Fables material. The indicia for Fables #159, the latest issue of the series that was published in June, lists it as the copyright of Bill Willingham and DC Comics.
Comics journalist Zach Rabiroff said on Twitter that recent copyright filings list the copyright holder as Willingham, with copyright transferred by written agreement.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Fables centers around characters from fairy tales and folklore living in a community in New York City. Therefore, several of the characters are already in the public domain.
The Fight Over Fables Will Likely Only Get Worse
These contrasting statements over the ownership of Fables are the latest development in a dispute between Willingham and DC Comics. Earlier this week, Willingham addressed delays in the publishing of new Fables comics, claiming that he had delivered all of his scripts to DC two years ago. He added that “for multiple reasons [I haven’t] worked with/for DC since. I fired them.” In his Substack newsletter, he accused DC Comics of violating their contract. He said that the publisher underpaid him on royalties, tried to claim ownership of Fables, and failed to consult him on decisions such as cover artists. He said that when he first contracted with DC to publish Fables, “DC was managed by reasonable men and women of character and ethics. Those people have all been replaced over the years, leaving DC under the management of unreasonable men and women of low character and absent ethics.” He also stated that he doesn’t care what DC does in response to his assertion that the property is now public domain. “What’s done is done.”
Bill Willingham has not yet responded to DC Comics‘ statement on Friday, but it is likely that the battle over the ownership of Fables is far from over.
So who owns Fables now? Read More