Who Owns What in the Comics World?

Contributor Tim Beyers sits down with The Motley Fool's Rick Engdahl to talk comics, TV, movies, tech, and related geekery. Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team, as well as the real-money Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I growth portfolio.

There are thousands of characters in the comic book universe, and many of them cross over between comic "families" and even companies. How will this play out in the real world of copyright and film rights? We may find out soon, with character Quicksilver slated to appear in both 21st Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOXA  ) and Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) films.

A full transcript follows the video.

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Richard Engdahl: I've just noticed that. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is now a TV show, which is kind of, in a weird way, a spinoff of all of the Avengers and the various Marvel movies that are coming out. Is this a new phase for Marvel/Disney that is potentially huge?

Tim Beyers: I think so. We're only starting to see... The funny thing is, as successful as the Marvel movies and the multimedia nature of Marvel characters is -- we've seen more Marvel characters on TV and in movies now than we've ever seen before, ever, which is just joyful for a comic book fan like me...

Engdahl: There are many characters that the general public doesn't even realize are comic-book-based, right?

Beyers: Exactly right. That's just a fascinating study, but when you think about Marvel as an entertainment property, there are thousands of characters that they have not taken to TV or film, and some of those are not even owned -- the film rights to those characters -- aren't even owned by Marvel or Disney anymore.

Some of them are owned by Fox or Sony. Sony owns Spider-Man... the film rights to Spider-Man. 21st Century Fox has the film rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, and when I say that I don't just mean those characters that are primarily on those superhero teams. They own the family of characters, so that any character that ever appeared, say, in a Fantastic Four comic book, presumably Fox could try and make a claim to that character and try and make a movie out of it.

Engdahl: That's dangerous, because so many of those comics are cross-written.

Beyers: Exactly. Exactly, and for the first time we are starting to see the business implications of that. In the next Avengers movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, that will include a couple of characters -- the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver -- that first started in the X-Men, but spent a lot of time in the Avengers.

Theoretically Marvel has access to those characters, but so does Fox. When Fox comes out with its next major X-Men movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Quicksilver will appear in that film, so you'll have a character that will appear in a Fox film and a Disney film.

Engdahl: Which one comes out first?

Beyers: Days of Future Past comes out first.

Engdahl: Is there a race to put that character into the movie, so that the company can claim the character legally, in some sort of copyright sense?

Beyers: We don't know. Those companies are not talking about that, but what Kevin Feige, the CEO of Marvel Studios, has said is that, "We can make our film, and they can make their film." He's being very ambiguous about this.

I imagine at some point lawyers are going to get involved, and when they do, who knows what happens?

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  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2013, at 8:45 PM, prginww wrote:

    Just one correction. These studios do not own rights to an entire family of characters or all characters that ever appeared in a comic. Their contracts specify certain characters as exclusive to them and yet others that can be used. Witness the new X-men movie and Avengers 2. Both will include Quicksilver.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 5:06 AM, prginww wrote:

    Pity that the creators of the characters get little or nothing from the movies. Jack Kirby created or co-created almost every significant character in the early Marvel days. And I do not consider Stan Lee one of the co-creators. Stan Lee is nothing but a glorified editor who got assigned credit so that Marvel (and later Disney) could control things.

    Take a look at just how "creative" he was when Kirby, Ditko, or Wally Wood were not present.

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