Fables’ shift to the public domain by creator Bill Willingham is clouded by a conflicting stance from DC, complicating the ownership narrative.
Fans of Fables are well aware of the recent shift placing the franchise in the public domain, courtesy of its creator, Bill Willingham, seemingly implying shared ownership among all. However, a contrasting stance taken by DC Comics complicates this narrative. The resulting conflicting perspectives have thrown aspiring creators interested in using Fables into a puzzling state of creative limbo, leaving everyone wondering what's next in this creative rights battle.
On September 15, Fables, along with its expansive array of spin-offs and beloved characters, seemingly underwent a radical shift. The property transitioned from the exclusive ownership of its creator, Bill Willingham, to an encompassing position within the public domain.
Initially heralded as an exciting prospect for fans and aspiring creators seeking to explore Fables for their creative projects, this development swiftly metamorphosed into the looming specter of a legal clash. DC released a statement contradicting Willingham's announcement, denying Fables transition into the public domain. The publisher cautioned that it would employ all necessary measures to safeguard its intellectual property rights.
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. DC reserves all rights and will take such actions as DC deems necessary or appropriate to protect its intellectual property rights.
So who exactly owns Fables now?
In his statement regarding the release of the Fables franchise into the public domain, Willingham highlighted the breakdown in his relationship with DC as the impetus behind his decision. He pointed to a succession of changes in leadership at DC, expressing concerns that Fables was no longer in capable hands. Willingham detailed various breaches of agreements, ranging from creative decisions to royalty reporting. However, he emphasized that these issues were overshadowed by what he saw as DC's attempt to wrest ownership of Fables and its neglect in preserving the franchise's integrity. In response to these grievances, Willingham stated, "They practically dared me to sue them to enforce my rights, knowing it would be a long and debilitating process."
I’ve decided to take a different approach, and fight them in a different arena, inspired by the principles of asymmetric warfare. The one thing in our contract the DC lawyers can’t contest, or reinterpret to their own benefit, is that I am the sole owner of the intellectual property. I can sell it or give it away to whomever I want. I chose to give it away to everyone. If I couldn’t prevent Fables from falling into bad hands, at least this is a way I can arrange that it also falls into many good hands.
Facing financial constraints that prevented him from suing DC, Willingham tried to circumvent the situation by opting to release Fables into the public domain, a strategic move aimed at bypassing DC's control. He explained that if he couldn't prevent Fables from the perceived risk of mishandling under DC's control, granting public domain access meant it would find its way into numerous good hands. Willingham asserted that this strategic move was aimed at preserving Fables' legacy, guaranteeing its availability to a broad spectrum of creators and fans, thereby preventing its potential exploitation or mishandling under the control of a singular authority. Unfortunately, it seems that DC is dead-set on maintaining its copyrights to Fables.
Admitting his lack of legal expertise, Willingham's recent statements seem to mark the end of his fight. The issue remains frustratingly unresolved; Willingham insists Fables is in the public domain, while DC vows legal action to prevent it. With critical contracts hidden from public view, a clear resolution seems improbable. The situation suggests that the only way to settle this dispute would be through a legal case if someone attempts to sell their Fables content, leading to a courtroom battle that could provide a legal judgment. Unfortunately, even if Fables is legally in the public domain, the prospect of utilizing it remains challenging due to DC's staunch opposition.
Combining her love for DC and her experience as an Intelligence Analyst, Taylor began writing for Screen Rant in 2023. As an avid consumer of DC-related content, Taylor’s expertise spans comics, shows, and movies alike. She actively engages across five prominent DC Discord Servers, curates a beloved Bat Family Tumblr blog, and seamlessly embodies Wonder Woman through cosplay. Taylor’s creative ingenuity further shines in her skillful crafting of DC fanfiction, an area in the fanbase where she is most active and recognized.