912 Cartoons, Comic Strips, and Comic Books
Cartoons, comic strips, and comic books typically contain pictorial expression or a combination of pictorial and written expression. These types of works may be registered as visual art works or literary works, depending on the nature of the expression that the author contributed to the work. If the work contains pictorial material or a substantial amount of pictorial material combined with text, the applicant should select Work of the Visual Arts (in the case of an online application) or Form VA (in the case of a paper application). If the work mostly contains text with a small amount of pictorial material, the applicant should select Literary Work for an online application or Form TX for a paper application. If the types of authorship are roughly equal, the applicant may use any type of application that is appropriate.
A registration for a cartoon, comic strip, or comic book only covers the specific work that is submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office. The Office does not offer so-called “blanket registrations” that cover prior or subsequent iterations of the same work. For example, a registration for a comic strip that depicts a particular character covers the expression set forth in that particular strip, but it does not cover the character per se or any other strip or other work that features the same character. (For more information concerning characters, see Section 911.)
In some cases it may be possible to register a number of cartoons, comic strips, or comic books with one application and one filing fee.
• If all of the works are unpublished, it may be possible to register up to ten works together as a group.
• If all of the works were first published as a contribution to a periodical, such as a newspaper or magazine, it may be possible to register the contributions as a group.
• If all the works were physically bundled together by the claimant for distribution to the public as a single, integrated unit, and if all the works were first published in that integrated unit it may be possible to register them using the unit of publication option. However, the works cannot be aggregated simply for the purpose of registration; instead they must have been first distributed to the public in the packaged unit.
For detailed information concerning the unit of publication option, and the group registration options for unpublished works and contributions to periodicals, see Chapter 1100, Sections 1103, 1106, and 1110.
Comic books are typically created by multiple authors, and the issues surrounding the authorship and ownership of the various contributions can be complex. In some cases, the creators may prepare their contributions on a work for hire basis as employees or pursuant to a freelancer work made for hire agreement. In some cases, the comic book may be a joint work. In other cases, different authors may create different aspects of the comic book, with some aspects originating from the publisher and other aspects originating from one or more individual, nonemployee authors (i.e., derivative works). For example, the publisher may claim ownership of the characters and the basic story, and may hire others to create the artwork, text, and/or lettering for particular issues. Then a freelance or staff contributor may contribute coloring and editing. If all of the work is done on a work made for hire basis, the authorship is clearly owned by the publisher, and as such the publisher should be named as the claimant.
If multiple authors contributed to the comic book as individual authors (not as joint authors or under a work made for hire agreement), and if it is unclear from the face of the deposit copy(ies) which author created what authorship and on what basis, the applicant should provide that information in the Author Created field of the online application or the Nature of Authorship space of the paper application. Such claims may require multiple separate applications to register the derivative authorship (e.g., an application for the pencil drawings and a separate application for the coloring of the preexisting drawings).
In some cases, comic book publishers license the use of another party’s characters and stories. In other cases, the publisher creates the stories, but the characters have been licensed. In such cases, the applicant should exclude the licensed characters and/or stories from the claim by stating “licensed character” or “licensed character and storyline” in the Material Excluded / Preexisting Materials field/space. The claimant should not name the licensor of the preexisting characters and/or stories as an author of the new text and artwork in the comic book.
The registration specialist will communicate with the applicant if the authorship or ownership information provided in the application is unclear or inconsistent with other statements in the application, the deposit copy(ies), or industry practice. In addition, the specialist may question whether a given work is a collective work or joint work, rather than a work consisting of separately owned contributions or works.
The Office will not register mere reprints, reissues, re-inks/letters/colors, or previously published, or previously registered comic books, unless the author contributed new copyrightable authorship in compiling, adapting, or changing the preexisting content.