The realm of fanfiction is where fans of any franchise can enter their favorite fictional universe and tell their own stories starring all their favorite characters. From the grand masterpieces, you occasionally find to the most degenerate fan-girl – there are no boundaries or pesky editors to reign in one’s imagination. Plus, there’s nothing like playing with great characters you know you’ll never be able to own. There’s just one problem – no matter how great your story is you can never make money from your hard work. Or can you?
Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman – many of us have grown up with iconic characters like these. We’ve followed their adventures on television, in comics and movies. From our perspective, characters like Batman are firmly stuck in the pocket of a company. Batman, in particular, is so associated with DC Comics that he – along with Superman and Wonder Woman – has become the face of the company. It’s almost unthinkable that one day you could be an independent author not only earning a living by writing your own Batman stories – but being able to build your own brand with the character with absolutely no legal consequences.
Here’s where things get interesting…
Any work published after 1977 remains the intellectual property of an author until eighty years after his death. Unless it becomes a corporate work which could extend that deadline to 120 years after death. However, Batman was first published back in 1939, which means the character is still subject to copyright laws before 1977. So how does that change things?
Any work published in the United States before 1977 only remains the intellectual property of the owner for 95 years after first publication. And for a work published in 1939 – the year 2034 is when Batman is set to enter the public domain. And once Batman enters the public domain anyone can write their own Batman story, make their own movie or novel – get it published and make money off of him – and DC comics can do nothing about it.
But here’s the best part. Whether he belongs to DC comics or not, the first few authors who get their own Batman story out there can take full advantage of the character’s massive brand recognition. Which means ambitious and talented indie authors will have a small window to rise to fame without having to rely on a big name publishing house. I say a small window because of every obsessed fanboy and comics-loving highschooler will jump at the chance to pump out their own official Batman story. And as a person who constantly jumps into the ocean of independent media – I can tell you with 100% certainty that about 20% will be bad and 70% will be life changingly awful. Like the kind of bad that might just ruin how you see Batman. At least 9% will be good. But it’s the 1% that we’ll really be excited for.
Batman entering public domain will be good for readers too, as long as they’re careful. The character being free game will mean there will be an overwhelmingly huge variety of Batman content to pick and choose from. Want Batman romance? There’ll probably be a category for that alone. Want to see a Batman series where he’s a literal Dark Knight saving souls in the Holy Land during the Crusades. Want to see a whole series on steampunk Batman? It could happen. Or maybe you’re just ready to see Batman in every fighting game ever created.
Sounds cool right?
Well, don’t get your hopes up too high. 2034 might give you Batman, but most of the other pieces to the Batman universe might still be held under lock and key by DC. Although you’ll only have to wait one more year to use characters like Catwoman and the Joker – you’ll still have some waiting to do if you’re hoping to write that Batman/Harly Quinn romance you’ve been dreaming about.