Copyright, Ownership, and Heirs

Recently on Facebook, there have been a few threads going around about the current and questionable Buck Rogers legal dispute. Now let me say up front that I’m not really interested in that dispute. I’m not a Buck Rogers fan, and only vaguely remember even the 1980s campy TV show. What I’m going to talk about instead is a comment I saw in one of those threads.

The comment talked about how the individual is against corporations owning I.P. and copyright being extendable near indefinitely, and how things should go quicker into Public Domain to enrich community creativity.

Allow me to start by saying, as someone who makes his living creating I.P., characters, and stories, quite bluntly: blow me.

Yes. I said to blow me.

I create and write full-time. Along the way I’ve had some duds, and I’ve had some I.P. that have taken off within their respective niche circles. Doing this full-time and for over two decades now, I can assure you that it isn’t easy. It’d be much easier, and at some times more lucrative, to take a job greeting people at the local Wal-Mart. So when us writers have something that captures fans and becomes successful enough to pay the bills (if not more), you are damned right that I.P. belongs to us and our descendants. Sonny Bono was one of my favorite people on Earth for what he did for copyright law.

As a writer, a lot of energy, work, and time, not to mention sacrificed time from my kids and family, went into creating that I.P.  Us writers work just as hard in our chosen occupation as you folks running the traditional jobs do. The difference is that we are not guaranteed a paycheck for our work. Many times we’ll make absolutely nothing for all that work. Nothing. Nada. Not one red cent.

And if you self-publish, you can not only not make a penny for all that work, but you can actually be in the financial hole just for the expense of publishing it. Which means we lost money for working.

So why should a successful work go into public domain? It was my sweat. My work. My struggle. Go out and create your own. Otherwise, license my work for your own financial gain.

What? You think creating a commercially viable, never mind successful, I.P. is easy? Just sit down and tap the ol’ keyboard? Okay then, you do it. I’ll wait.

Oh, you didn’t take the time to learn characterization, story formula, story structure? You didn’t spend years and years working and honing your ability to put all the pieces together to make a professional and successful story (read: I.P.)?

Well, those of us who made it (50 Shades of Gray aside) did do that. Over and over again. For years.

So, when I die and leave this great video game of life— no, you can’t have my stuff.

As far as a corporation owning the I.P., tread very carefully on that one before you sound like an idiot. First of all, any writer worth his salt would advise you to eventually incorporate yourself. It provides a legal wall between you and your personal assets, and any Tom or Dick out there that manages to file a successful suit against you over one or more of your works. Even the late, great Roger Zelazny incorporated himself as The Amber Corporation at the height of his career, and he was one of the first writers to give me that business advice.

At which point, the corporation might legally own the I.P.

Now, in the coming years, as my kids get more and more into being legal adults, I have every intent of putting them on the corporation as owners. When I die, that assures that they, my children, control all my I.P. creations, and can (hopefully) benefit from what I left them as their parent.

And why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t I leave my I.P., my legacy of work, to my children? Why the hell should I allow it to just drop into public domain? My I.P. is no more a right to you, the strangers out there, than my money would be if I was a Millionaire, once I die.

And if my children decide to do the same for their children (my grandchildren), then so be it. I encourage it. And even give said advice in my Will.

And if you don’t think that’s fair— tough. Life isn’t fair. It’s my work, my sweat, my legacy. And it goes to my kids, who have every right to extend that copyright when the time comes. It doesn’t belong to you, and if I had my way, never would.

As with any writer, my characters and stories are a part of me. A literal, mental and emotional, part of me. They don’t just spring from some “Great Author Well” that we all share.

So to individuals like the one who made that comment on social media, go create your own stuff. Then work your ass off to make it financially viable. Then work your ass off to expand it into a commercial success. Then give it all away in public domain so anyone else can make their money off of it and potentially dilute your income from your hard work.

Me? Sorry, not going to happen. Not now, and not ever. If I wanted to do all the work so someone else (or a group of others) could make money off it, maybe even more money than I made, I’d be working a normal 40-hour a week job to make someone else and their family rich on my hard work. At least then I’d have a guaranteed paycheck for my work effort.

I worked for over twenty years, day in and day out, to hone my skills and get where I am today as a writer. And I’m still working hard to get even better, and be a better writer in years to come. My creations are not public domain. They are my creations, my work, and my legacy and inheritance to my children.

People like that aren’t looking to “enrich community creativity,” they’re looking to be lazy and potentially capitalize off of someone else. Why do I say that? Because anyone can create a retro-feel, man out of time, science fiction story with new characters, situations, themes, and elements. Something inspired by Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and the like. Writers, real writers, do that stuff all the time.

Roger Zelazny did it. Neil Gaiman does it. George R.R. Martin does it. Jonathan Maberry does it. And the list goes on.

But they create, develop, write, and market, something new, inspired by that something (or multiple somethings) that they loved. Which means that Buck Rogers has already enriched community creativity, and public domain is not required.

So, do your own work, and stop complaining because you won’t or can’t. No creator is required to put their stuff in public domain for you.

Rant over. I’m outta here.