Sunday, March 19, 2006

Caution: Mad Blogger at Work!

As those who know me would attest, I'd don't get mad that much. I'm a pretty affable guy ... until I reach a certain point at which I skip "mad" and go straight to "I shall destroy you all for deriding my scientific genius and the world will rue the day it laughed at.... PROFESSOR GARLING!"

I am currently at that point with Marvel ... AND DC. Why?

Marvel and DC are asserting trademark rights on the word "superhero"
. Thus, no other company or writer can called any of their characters a 'superhero'. The case in point involves the stunningly innocuous "Superhero Happy Hour", a cute little series I've read on occasion.

This infuriates me for several reasons.

  • My sense of fair play is offended when people use frivolous trademark assertions as threats to intimidate their competition rather than offering superior products and services.

  • If I have to see TM after every use by DC of the term "superhero"(oh, EXCUSE ME, I meant "super-hero"TM; can I say "superhero" here? Is DC going to sue me?), I think I'll simply stop reading comics and focus on Latin & Greek Literature, instead. Not a lot of trademark fights between Aeschylus and Euripides over who owns the term "deus ex machina" (of course, I suppose DC owns that now, too).

  • What's next? "Invulnerable"tm? "Amazon"tm? "Mutant"tm? "Villain"tm? Aren't those words that make most people think of comic books? Will DC and Marvel go after "super-ego"? Maybe only DC and Marvel's egos will be allowed to be called "super-egos"... .

  • Do you use adhesive strips, pain relievers, and facial tissue? No; you use band-aids, aspirin, and kleenex, regardless of the brand. Still, those are pretty clearly "brand names"; but "super-hero", the combination of a basic Greek root and a simple Latin prefix, the kind of word our language produces naturally, couldn't be farther from a "brand name" if it tried.

  • Even if successful, DC and Marvel will have accomplished nothing whatsoever except the proliferation of embarrassing linguistic folderol like "megaheroes" and "ultraheroes", and the media and 'oi polloi will STILL call them all superheroes. So will I; aggressively.

  • It seems quite sufficient to me that DC and Marvel dominate an entire genre of literature. Trying to trademark a genre through ownership of its keywords is greedy, overkill, and smacks of insecurity.

I would be happy -- oh, so happy -- to be proven wrong in reporting this to you. I would delighted to be mistaken, or to have to eat my words when DC (at least) says, "oh no, we aren't doing that, our bad."

Make me happy, DC. Because right now, I am mad.


Chris Griswold said...

I wonder if they'll go after Invinvicble, which says superhero on the cover - or at least it has on many covers.

Or if they'll go after the upcoming movie Superhero!

Chris Griswold said...

Oh, and this is why some comics universes use the words:


Anonymous said...

Not to mention "science-heroes".

Anonymous said...

silly question,but how could this be enforced if it even BECAME an actual law?

Anonymous said...

Except Capes and Metas are both used by DC, which supposedly holds the copyright anyway.

There's a difference between trademarking a title vs. trademarking a character/word.

The best example of this is Captain Marvel. DC can call the character Captain Marvel. They can even advertise that, "Hey, Captain Marvel is in this book." They just can't title the book "Captain Marvel," and if it was about the entire family, they certainly couldn't call the book "Marvels," because Marvel owns that TITLE.

Yeah, it's still asinine, because really, who would confuse the title "Superhero Happy Hour" with "Superman"? Isn't the point of the DC logo that you know whether or not it's got the Dan DiDio seal of approval just by looking at the cover? And how would it ever be confused for a Marvel product? Besides Iron Man, I mean.

However, we are a long way away from preventing other companies from using the word superhero IN their books or seeing TM all over the place, because the words and ideas are out there and they can't stop writers from using them. And they certainly can't come after you for using the word "Superhero" in your blog any more than they could call you on saying the name of the city you live in or telling a friend they look Marvelous.

So you can ratchet down the outrage from "mad blogger" to "highly miffed blogger," or even "slightly perturbed." I'm still with you, just not all the way there.

Scipio said...

"we are a long way away from preventing other companies from using the word superhero IN their books or seeing TM all over the place, because the words and ideas are out there and they can't stop writers from using them."

Uh... did you read any of the links? That is EXACTLY what they are doing.

Anonymous said...

Joel owes me money, the bastard; I trademarked the word pissant in 1978.

Anonymous said...

Um, yeah, I did read the links.

I think Cory is over-reacting too, as does Devon, who erreth not.

They are preventing GeekPunk from using the word "Superhero" in their title. Which I agree is asinine, but within their rights. GeekPunk also couldn't call their book "Superman," even though Nietzsche and George Bernard Shaw had a better claim to the word than Siegel and Schuster did.

They are not preventing GeekPunk from using the word or concept of a superhero, or even a superman, within the book itself, because they can't. They have no control over language or story ideas or genre or format, as much as they might want to.

Anonymous said...

"Uh... did you read any of the links? That is EXACTLY what they are doing. "

Did YOU read the links? What they're doing is changing the *title* of a book. It's unlikely they can prevented from using the word "superhero" in the interior. (As the Newsarama link points out, Wizard does that about a million times an issue.)

Trademark gives only *limited* rights to a word, usually focusing on the packaging/exterior/advertising for a specific kind of product with the intent of preventing confusion in the marketplace. If there's no confusion, there's no infringment. Meaning while I can't produce and market a new car called a Wrangler (cuz Jeep has that trademark) I can certainly use the word "wrangler" in a novel all I want. Likewise you'd be in a world of legal hurt if you wanted to open a fast-food restaurant named McDonalds--but if you want to name an auto repair shop with that moniker, go right ahead.

For comics that means don't use the word "superhero" in the title or on the cover of a comic, or else Marvel and DC will getcha. Feel free to refer to "superheroes" in the interior all ya want, though. That's not going to cause confusion and it's a perfectly ordinary word found in every dictionary.

This is old news, by the way: these trademarks were taken out in the '70s. If you want to see the actual registrations, go here:

and search on "super-hero."

Anonymous said...

It is old news, and it's ability to affect creativity is quite limited.

Now, excuse me, while I finish reading this issue of "Miracleman."

Anonymous said...

mark your territory? we're pitbull terriers now?

Brett said...

How can they share a trademark? Aren't I, an innocent consumer likely to be confused in my honest shopping? Which company really represents Superhero? How can it be both of them? If I buy a Mars bar, I buy it from Mars. Joint ownership just serves to confuse me and looks more like an attempt to control a market as a cartel rather than actually function as a trademark.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with you Scipio on the subject of Marvel and DC asserting tm rights on the bloody word.

Apart from that, I'd like to emphasize that I am greek and I know what 'Oi polloi' means. Heh heh...

JP said...

Where's Nietszche when there's some serious ass-whupping to be dished out?

Seriously though, I thought the term 'superheroes' was copyrighted by a toy company. At least that's the reason given in John Clute's Illustrated Encyclopaedie of SF for George RR Martin's sharecropped anthology series, Wild Cards, naming it's superheroic mutants 'Aces' instead.

Mike Haseloff said...

Wow, this is spreading right across the net.

Great to see people jumping on the bandwagon... two years after the fact. :-D