Monday, September 18, 2006

Let's all go to Cat Town

Cat Town is, according to Wikipedia, a fumetto, a comic which uses photos instead of line art. In this case, the photos are of generally surprised-looking cats. The sense of humor tends to be intentionally dopey and so reminds me of Pokey the Penguin, one of my favorite non-fumetti comics.

The strip has done an odd adaptation of Hamlet, which episode it describes as "An erudite and witty existential commentary based around a popular drama." I also very much enjoy the saga of Dogville. We meet the President of the Internet in that one.

At the bottom of each page, the author asserts copyright for the "Cat Town stories and page layout." Unfortunately, I think that this guy has no valid copyright. The problem is that cat photos. According to the wikipedia entry for Cat Town, the cat pictures were taken from a Japanese site. And I doubt that the Cat Town guy has permission to use the photos on his site. There is a copyright on the original photos which Cat Town guy doesn't have. He has used these photos to make his webcomic, and has thereby created what's called a "derivative work." That is, he's adapted copyrighted material into a new form.

The problem for this guy is that he likely doesn't have permission for his webcomic, making his use an unauthorized derivative work. And unauthorized derivative works don't get copyright protection, see Anderson v. Stallone. Anderson wrote an unauthorized treatment for a Rocky movie and claimed that Stallone stole his idea. The court held that Anderson had no rights to asert because his treatment was an unauthorized derivative work - a story based on Stallone's characters. With no rights to enforce, he can't recover from Stallone's theft. Anderson didn't have copyrights on the characters, and he lost. Cat Town dude doesn't have (I assume) copyrights on the cat photos, and he should lose (in a hypothetical action).

Isn't that a shitty and thoroughly unfair outcome for a clever little webcomic?

1 comment:

Arfanser said...

I dont think that is bad. He still gets to make his comic, he just cant profit from it. Also, unlike a screenplay, if a comic is good, the owners of the original copyright will be more likely to sell the use to this guy for a percentage of the proceeds, and then everyone will get paid for their work which seems more egalitarian to me.