Monday, November 05, 2018
Stripper's Guide Q & A: Sharing Old Comic Strips with the Masses
Q: I was thinking of creating a free little blog with the strips I've already compiled and cleaned up; or, if it's better, uploading them to the ILoveComix archive. Is that frowned upon in the hobby though? Even if I can't find good copies, I hope to compile a full run of Oaky Doaks and hopefully bring the title out of obscurity a little for anyone who'd like to view it--but I don't want to do anything as a new guy that isn't the norm. If everyone has a pet project like this, collecting and keeping secret a run of obscure strips, I don't want to step on that I suppose.
A: First of all, my compliments on your good taste. I love Oaky Doaks, and if I had the time I'd be gathering the strip myself.
Let's start by looking at your question strictly from a legal standpoint. To create a website that offers a substantial run of any strip, the first thing you should consider is whether you will run afoul of copyright laws. Caveat emptor on what follows because I am not an attorney.
Under current law it is my understanding that anything prior to 1923 (maybe 1924 now) is always fair game. Obviously Oaky Doaks doesn't qualify. There is a rule, though, for works published from 1923 to 1963, which covers the whole run of Oaky Doaks, that copyrights must have been renewed in order to stay in force. The renewal is supposed to occur sometime in the 27th or 28th year after publication. If the copyright on the Oaky Doaks strips was not renewed, theoretically you are free to reprint them at will.There are online sources for searching these copyright renewals, but they are by no means perfect or exhaustive. Proceed with caution. A copyright attorney may be needed to perform a more definitive search.
Another option for checking copyrights is to simply ask the entity that held them. If they tell you they no longer hold that copyright, you are again free and clear. In the case of comic strips, it may be worthwhile to get that release from both the syndicator and the estate of the creator, in case the renewal that you couldn't find was in a different name than the original copyright.
Okay, now let's be realistic. Do most people jump through all these hoops to put some comic strips on a website? No. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't. And if they forgo all these checks, they should know that they are opening themselves up to a cease and desist letter, or at worst a full-blown lawsuit. It doesn't happen very often, but it can happen.
That brings us to Steve Cottle's ILoveComix archive. While I applaud the concept, I have found the interface impenetrable so that I don't really know what he's put together there. Maybe I'm just too dumb to figure out his site. Anyway, I see that he's offering subscriptions for a monthly fee, but without knowing if that gets you a better interface, or what is actually available, I just can't open my purse. I do get the feeling that he is on pretty thin ice, copyright-wise, and that makes me uncomfortable ... but I guess that's his problem, not mine.
Seems to me that if you are going to go to all the trouble of finding and restoring all these strips, you don't want to hide them behind someone else's paywall or oddball website design. You should either benefit yourself, or if your desire is just to share, do so freely and openly in a format in which fans can easily take advantage. As long as you are comfortable that the lawyers won't be nipping at your heels, go for it!
As to comic strip collectors secretly amassing fabulous runs of comic strips that they won't share, I certainly wouldn't put it that way. There are several reasons I and many other collectors don't upload massive amounts of old comic strips. First is the legal problem that we just discussed. Second, the investment of time would be substantial and I for one am too busy with the Stripper's Guide project, which has different aims than sharing long runs of strips. Third is that when a collector pays good and often substantial amounts of money for their strips, they may consider that an investment. Once most comic strips are reprinted the resale market for the original tearsheets basically goes into freefall, leaving that collector with a lot of practically worthless paper. For instance, my Li'l Abner and Little Orphan Annie daily strips, numbering in the many thousands, are almost better used as kindling for the fireplace than trying to sell them.
Labels: Q and A