Comics: Trademarks & Copyright

From the exhibit, “Superheroes in Court! Lawyers, Law and Comic Books”, curated by Mark S. Zaid, Esq., and on display Sept. 4-Dec, 16, 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

In the early days of comics, publishers sought to secure trademark protection for their titles through “ashcans”. Only a few examples would be created with the title’s logo, some existing cover art and possibly some interior pages, and a copy would be submitted to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for registration. These two rare examples of Flash Comics reflect the importance of timing as DC Comics fended off its rival by just one month thereby forcing Fawcett Publications to have its flagship character “Captain Marvel” star in Whiz Comics.

 

Flash Comics no. 1 (DC Comics, Dec. 1939). Personal collection of Mark S. Zaid, Esq.

Flash Comics no. 1 (Fawcett, Jan. 1940). Personal collection of Mark S. Zaid, Esq.

Most publishers properly sought copyright protection for their respective works. Unlike “ashcans”, which were specially created and not meant to survive, one example of a published comic, such as this Clown Comics Book no. 1 (1945), would be filed with and stamped by the Library of Congress’ Copyright Office. Though the Library still retains most of†these “Copyright Deposit Copies,” some copies were discarded as excess or even stolen over the years.

Clown Comic Book no. 1 (1945). Personal collection of Mark S. Zaid, Esq.

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