DC has issued an official statement in response to Bill Willingham’s announcement that he has put his hit comic series Fables into the public domain, stating that the company “reserves all rights” to the property.
In a statement shared with IGN, DC has disputed Willingham’s claims about Fables being in the public domain, asserting that is not the case and the company will take any “action” it deems necessary against the infringement of the property as DC retains ownership over the beloved fantasy series and its characters.
“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,” the statement reads. “DC reserves all rights and will take such action as DC deems necessary or appropriate to protect its intellectual property rights.”
These comments come after Willingham published a post on his personal blog claiming he had released Fables into the public domain. He stated he is “the sole owner of the Fables intellectual property” and has opted to “give it away to everyone” following a breakdown in his business relationship with DC Comics.
Willingham shared his view that the Fables properties had “fallen into bad hands” and alleged longstanding disputes with DC involving violations of agreements between himself and the company. According to him, issues include a lack of consultation, late and incorrect payment of royalties, and quarrels over media rights.
“Since I can’t afford to sue DC, to force them to live up to the letter and the spirit of our long-time agreements; since even winning such a suit would take ridiculous amounts of money out of my pocket and years out of my life,” Willingham wrote, “I’ve decided to take a different approach, and fight them in a different arena, inspired by the principles of asymmetric warfare.”
In a follow-up Q&A on his blog, Willingham expanded on his actions and the reasons behind his decision. He reiterated that he has chosen to “purposely and irrevocably” surrender his Fables property to the public domain, stating that he “alone had the right, or the power, or the authority (choose your term) to do this”.
He shared more details about his alleged dispute with DC, claiming that “certain events” had triggered him to release the franchise into the public domain sooner than he had initially planned. The creator said his relationship with DC had broken down over time due to alleged violations of its agreements with him.
“Shortly after creating Fables, I entered into a publishing agreement with DC Comics,” Willingham explained “In that agreement, while I continued to own the property, DC would have exclusive rights to publish Fables comics, and then, later, that agreement was expanded to give DC exclusive rights to exploit the property in other ways, including movies and TV.
“DC paid me a fair price for these rights (fair, at the time), and as long as they behaved ethically and above-board and conducted themselves as if this were a partnership, all was more or less well,” he continued. “But DC doesn’t seem to be capable of acting fairly and above-board. In fact, they treated this agreement (as I suppose I should have known they would) as if they were the boss and I their servant. In time, that got worse, as they later reinterpreted our contracts to assume they owned Fables outright.”
In another blog post over the weekend, Willingham spoke again on the Fables Public Domain matter as he extended his gratitude to those that had sent messages of support and encouragement in the aftermath of his announcement. He also said he stands by his decision to relinquish the rights to the popular comic franchise.
“I’m overwhelmed (in a good way) by the outpouring of support I’ve received over the past two days concerning my decision to send Fables into the public domain,” he wrote. “It’s a decision that still stands, and will stand, even in the face of cranky denials from those DC folks, who now openly admit what I’ve known all along: Even with a creator-owned contract, they believe they are the true owners of Fables. They always have.”
Fables is undoubtedly one of the most successful and beloved comics published under DC’s Vertigo imprint. It eventually blossomed into a hugely popular franchise, with the main series spanning 150 issues and inspiring numerous spin-off projects like Jack of Fables, Fairest, and even the Telltale Games series The Wolf Among Us.
The main series features several iconic characters from fantasy and folklore, including the likes of Snow White, Prince Charming, the Big Bad Wolf, and Pinocchio, as it focuses on refugees from countless worlds forming a settlement called Fabletown after fleeing the destructive rampage of a tyrant known as the Adversary.
Adele Ankers-Range is a freelance entertainment writer for IGN. Follow her on Twitter.