This year sees the 75th anniversary of Batman, and with the recent film franchise grossing approximately $2.5 billion, and a rare Batman comic selling at auction for $1,075,500 in 2010, there certainly seems to be cause for celebration. Yet, recent attention has not been on the well-known creator Bob Kane but his unaccredited partner, the seemingly ‘un-sung hero’ Bill Fingers.
Lack of recognition isn’t ‘all good’
Whilst Bob Kane has been widely credited as the creator of Batman, it was in fact Bill Fingers that created many of the recognizable and fundamental aspects of the ‘Batman world’, such as Gotham City and Commissioner Gordon that feature heavily in the recent films. Despite this, the credited sole creator is named as Bob Kane.
This dispute has been discussed widely throughout the comic book community, leading to Facebook campaigns calling for recognition of Fingers’ input. Such a dispute was noted even by Kane himself, whereby his autobiography stated that “I never thought of giving him a by line and he never asked for one. I often tell my wife, if I could go back 15 years, before he died, I would like to say, I’ll put your name on it now, you deserve it…he was an un-sung hero.”
Although this admittance by Kane may go some way to sentimentally accrediting Fingers, it has not legally addressed any of the copyright issues at hand – a fact recognized by Athena Fingers, the granddaughter of Bill Fingers, who is now exploring her legal rights. Following a recent assertion by DC Comics that things are “all good” with the Fingers family, Athena Fingers has stated that Bill was never properly credited as the co-creator, as it is a “widely known secret” that he co-created Batman but “never got the credit for it.”
Suit or settlement?
Under the US Copyright Register, Batman is owned by DC Comics, who are in turn owned by Time Warner. Although the recognition wanted for Fingers’ work might be in the form of an attribution line, as per the original agreement between Bob Kane and National Comics, Kane sold the character of Batman under the fact that he was to be credited as the sole creator of the character.
And so, accrediting Finger in all subsequent Batman works could lead to a large amount of litigation for DC Comics, as they would have to alter or retract the original contract in agreement with Kane’s estate.
Therefore, DC Comics will certainly be more willing to settle with Athena Fingers rather than engage in formal litigation. The compromise of such a settlement could rest on the premise of an accreditation line on the upcoming US television series ‘Gotham’ that is based around many of Fingers’ creations, as called for in various Facebook campaign groups.
A recent dispute between the estate of Jack Kirby, comic book creator, and long established publisher Marvel Comics, may give a clue as to the outcome of the potential legal dispute between Fingers and DC Comics.
The estate of Jack Kirby recently filed a petition with the US Supreme Court to overturn a prior ruling denying his heirs the rights to the characters he created, which are now worth billions of dollars. Like Fingers, Kirby created a lot of comic book characters yet never asserted his rights for ownership, and whilst the Kirby estate are still waiting on a final statement from the Court, it seems very unlikely that they will have much success as the assertion of such rights would mean a huge turnaround in the definition of ‘works for hire’ under US Copyright law.
Therefore, it would seem the most probable outcome to predict is not a ‘David v Goliath’ style legal battle between Athena Fingers and DC Comics, but rather a compromise between the two parties to recognize the work of Bill Fingers in an appropriate way.
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