Following up on recent developments, the question about whether or not Fables — the fantasy series published by DC and created by writer Bill Willingham — is now in the public domain or not has gotten just a little bit more complicated.
On Thursday, Willingham announced that he had released Fables, which he described as being “wholly owned” by himself, into the public domain after his increasing dissatisfaction with DC. “The one thing in our contract the DC lawyers can’t contest, or reinterpret to their own benefit, is that I am the sole owner of the intellectual property,” he wrote in a statement published online. “I can sell it or give it away to whomever I want.”
But what, exactly, is he giving away? According to copyright statements included inside Fables publications, the property is co-owned by Willingham and DC. Willingham’s own statement notes “I still can’t publish Fables comics through anyone but them. I still can’t authorize a Fables movie through anyone but them. Nor can I license Fables toys nor lunchboxes, nor anything else.” (Willingham suggested that others are freed of any obligation to DC because only he signed the contracts, but admits that this is based on his own understanding of the law.)
DC, perhaps unsurprisingly, is disputing what Willingham’s read on the situation in a statement released Friday.
DC’s statement reads, “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 action as DC deems necessary or appropriate to protect its intellectual property rights.”
To some degree, Willingham agrees, tweeting that his announcement “doesn’t include the right to reprint previously published Fables books and stories,” suggesting that those works are not in the public domain. Instead, what seems to be at issue is whether or not the Fables characters are now free use — something that is a particularly muddied subject, given that they are almost entirely based on fairy tale characters that were already in the public domain.
Consider this an evolving story… and a particularly thorny subject, which feels somewhat fitting for a Snow White story.