Thursday, February 28, 2013

Copyright Strikes Again: 'Real Calvin And Hobbes' Shut Down By Copyright Claim

from the but-copyright-isn't-about-censorship? dept

It's early in the week, but it seems like there have been a whole bunch of stories already about copyright being used (and abused) to take down content. The latest victim, tragically, is the blog that was Real Calvin and Hobbes by Michael Den Beste, in which he would take scenes from the classic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes and place them in "real photographs."
Like many people of my generation, I grew up completely addicted to Calvin & Hobbes. I bought all the books, and even now, decades later, I keep The Complete Calvin & Hobbes on my night table, and I enjoy reading it with my son. While I know that Watterson always fought back against attempts to license out the work, it still seems fairly ridiculous that his publisher, Andrews McMeel Universal, has told Den Beste that he needs to take down the works because they are infringing, in their view.
For what it's worth, this (at least) was not a legal nastygram, but rather a response to Den Beste himself asking if what he was doing was okay. John Glynn at Andrews McMeel Universal was at least somewhat friendly about it, but told him the images needed to go:
Hi Michael,

Thanks for your inquiry.

I'm sorry to say that it is our view that what you're doing is in violation of the copyright of Calvin & Hobbes. This is no reflection on the artistic merit of what you've done and certainly not a personal condemnation of the pieces you've created.

We're protective of the copyright for a variety of reasons, most importantly it is the express and unwavering wish of the creator that any use of Calvin and Hobbes was limited to work he'd created and in very specific formats.

Because that is the case, we would politely request that you take down the works you've created that contain any Calvin and Hobbes images.

You look to be an outstanding artist and we wish you the best in your future endeavors.


John Glynn
Universal Uclick
Andrews McMeel Universal
Of course, it's not just the copyright holder who gets to determine copyright infringement. It seems like Den Beste should have a fairly reasonable fair use argument. The images are quite transformative. He's only using a portion of the works. He's certainly not taking away any value from the original works (he's probably adding to it). And, while he did put up a "donate" button on the site, this is hardly a big for-profit venture (he claims he made about $85).

The problem, of course, is that fighting for fair use means being willing to spend on a lawyer and go to court. And that's just not worth it for someone doing something fun.

The real issue here, however, is that there is no reason why John Glynn and Andrews McMeel Universal needed to go down this path. Hell, we even have a near perfect parallel example that shows why this is a really dumb move. Five years ago, we wrote about a similar blog concerning Garfield minus Garfield, in which someone else posted Garfield comics with the comic's namesake deleted from every scene. In that case, everyone was actually cool with it. The creator of the comic talked about how awesome it was, and eventually Garfield's publisher, Ballantine Books, worked out a simple agreement to even allow the creator of Garfield Minus Garfield to publish his own book of the strips.

Instead, in this case, a site that was energizing fans about the original comic, and was clearly made lovingly by a huge fan of the original, gets shut down. While there are still some of the images floating around the internet, we're now all worse off for not having these images widely available, and assured that Dan Beste won't be creating any more for the world. That's what we mean when we talk about copyright killing off culture and being used to stomp out creation, rather than encourage it.

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