An interesting case in IP law is brewing, and—shocking I know—it’s not about AI this time.

On September 15th, Bill Willingham, the creator of DC Comic’s Fables sent out a message on his personal substack, acting as a Press Release. You can read the whole thing here.

The most important part is this:

As of now, 15 September 2023, the comic book property called Fables, including all related Fables spin-offs and characters, is now in the public domain. What was once wholly owned by Bill Willingham is now owned by everyone, for all time.

Willingham signed to DC on a creator-owned contract and after a number of grievances over years outlined in the post, he has come to a standstill with DC over creative control, rights, royalties, etc. So according to his understanding of his contract, since he owns Fables he can release it to the public domain — in effect giving a blanket permission to anyone to use the characters.

Obviously DC has their own response.

The Fables comic books and graphic novels published by DC, and the storylines, characters and elements therein, are owned by DC and protected under the copyright laws of the United States and throughout the world in accordance with applicable law, and are not in the public domain. DC reserves all rights and will take such action as DC deems necessary or appropriate to protect its intellectual property rights.

Of course, this is going to come down to the exact wording of that original contract, and that’s going to take lawyers. But it’s definitely a fascinating case and worth watching, especially battling out what a “creator-owned” contract actually means. When we work on Intellectual Property that already exists we, as artists and writers, know we have limited rights to our work, as it’s based on a derivative copyright of the original work. But this could potentially be some very interesting and very gray legal areas.

And there’s already been an update/FAQ from Willingham in a later post here.