Monday, March 20, 2006

Who owns 'Super-Hero'?


Every so often some fanboy gets in a tizzy because he learns that DC & Marvel have a trademark on the term 'super-hero'.

The latest is this stupid item over on, which refers to a two-year-old posting on Newsarama as if it were brand new news and manages to get just about every point wrong, including which aspect of intellectual property law is at issue ("DC/Marvel Copyrighting 'Super Hero'"). (screenshot here in case SciFi comes to its senses and fixes it.)

(Update: did indeed remove the news story after I sent them an email pointing out their errors. Kudos to them for rectifying the situation, although an actual correction notice would be better.)

Here, folks, are some salient points:

  • DC/Marvel are not "trying to copyright the term 'super hero.'"
  • One cannot copyright a phrase.
  • DC & Marvel hold a joint *trademark* to the term super-hero for use in publications, and have held it for many years. The registration number for the applicable trademark is 1179067 (see this).
  • Holding a trademark on 'super-hero' means that they are the only companies who can use 'super-hero' in the title of their comic books. It does *not* mean that no one else can ever use the term 'super-hero'.
  • DC & Marvel are required by law to defend their trademark in order to keep it, and that is what they did in this instance.
  • If you're going to publish your own comic book series, it would be prudent to do a trademark search before choosing a title.
  • If you would like to know more about trademark law, Nolo's Website has a good introduction.

I really hope that this will be the last time this goes around, but I suspect it won't be.

(Dislaimer: I am not a lawyer; I am a librarian at a US Patent & Trademark Depository Library. My comments are my own and do not necessarily represent the view of my employer.)


Jon said...

God, thank you. Most people are doing a full-on freak-out on this, and it's driving me nuts.

White Devil said...

Hello, thank you for this great article it really clears some of my doubts, but i have a question that i hope you can help me. Im planing on making a new comics related website but dont know if i can use in the design any comic book character, lets say, batman in the background or something like that, or even a comic front cover so i dont have to draw my own version, do you know if that's a legal problem? thank you and sorry to bother you, i'e been looking this a lot with no luck.

Thanks again