Sean Gordon Murphy On The ABC Of Dealing With Marvel's Lawyers

Sean Gordon Murphy On The ABC Of Dealing With Marvel's Lawyers
Sean Gordon Murphy is one of the creators who, as a result of the Gary Friedrich situation, and even after Marvel's response, has chosen to stop sketching Marvel characters at conventions. But he is also someone who has also found himself the subject of Marvel's concerns. He writes on his deviantArt page, providing lots of context and noting;

Last year I drew the Wolverine ABCs.  When it was done, I printed out around 200 sketchbooks of them to hand out to industry friends.  I knew enough about copyright law to know that I was in the gray area, even though they were only meant to be given away as gifts.  I also gave them to people and editors who worked at Marvel–clearly I wasn't trying to hide what I'd created.  Because I was a pro and because I wasn't selling them, I figured I'd be fine.  After three conventions of EVERYONE telling me I should sell them, I broke down and sold some.  At the last show that season, I sold the remaining 40 copies or so.

Then Marvel called.  I explained that I didn't have a warehouse of sketchbooks, I only made around 200 (or close to that) and mostly I gave them away.  I explained how none of the Marvel editors complained when I handed them one, and my lack of hiding the ABCs should show the innocent nature of my endeavor.  I even offered to sign a Cease and Desist, and pay them the money I made selling the last 40.  But Marvel wanted the rights to the ABCs–they wanted to own them and pay me nothing.  I wasn't willing to do that, so I got a lawyer.  And we eventually came together and agreed to drop the subject if I simply removed them from my site and promised not to make any more sketchbooks.

I was in the wrong. I really can't be angry at Marvel for their actions.  They were in the right, even though some things at conventions are tolerated, it's still technically wrong.  My mistake was being a higher-profile artist and making a themed book out of Marvel characters.  I was surprised that it led to the threat of legal action, but it's not my call to make.  I apologized to Marvel up and down, and I still feel incredibly stupid for what I did.

To be clear, I support Marvel's decision and I'm happy we worked out an arrangement.  I bear them no ill will, and am only telling this story to outline the rights of both the creator and the corporation.  I'm not trying to be provocative, only trying to help illustrate what creators need to do to protect themselves.  Because I honestly believe that corporations don't want to go after creators, because it makes them the bad guy.  Which they're often not.

My mistake was thinking that it was no big deal … because most people in comics don't think it's a big deal.  But most people haven't dealt with Marvel like I have, and that's what fueled my involvement in this entire issue.

Murphy admits his culpability but also in the context that, despite Marvel's assurances, this kind of thing could happen to anyone, anywhere… the Friedrich case is merely a wakeup call.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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