Attempting to Publish with Images of a Super™ Well-Known Intellectual Property
Written by guest blogger Christopher B. Zeichmann, author of “Champion of the Oppressed: Redescribing the Jewishness of Superman as Populist Authenticity Politics” published in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 29.2 (Summer 2017).
It’s exciting enough to get a manuscript accepted for publication, but since it was on the topic of Superman and Jewish identity, I knew my childhood self was cheering as well. Among the refereed suggestions for revisions was the following: “I very much like the inclusion of relevant scans of the comics. My only suggestion here would be to balance out the social justice samples with ones referenced later in the article that make the case for Superman’s Jewishness – e.g., the panels that mention Samson.” Easy enough: several comic book panels jumped to mind to which I had access and might clarify things for the reader. The editors were happy with the new scans and that was the end of the story, or so I thought…
A few months later, UTP asked me to procure reproduction permission for these images. Though the images would presumably fall under “fair use” policies, UTP understandably has a policy that requiring explicit permission to avoid legal issues. This seemed straightforward enough to me: since I’m not making any money on this article and UTP is a university press, DC Comics would happily grant such permission. First, I was surprised at how incredibly difficult it was to even find contact information for DC Comics’ rights-and-permissions department; nothing is posted on their website, nor on the website of their parent company, Warner Entertainment, and the few references to a phone number I found online were to their old offices before they moved from the east coast to the west coast. After a few days of fruitless googling, I decided to go with the “Hail Mary” option of calling Warner Brothers’ main number and just getting transferred until I found someone who could help me. This took a few hours and several phone calls, but eventually I got hold of someone who gave me the email address to get hold of the right person.
Initial correspondence was encouraging, but this was tempered when I spoke with my father – he works at a company that recently got permission make their product with “major brand” logos on them. My father, in his kind and loving way, informed me that my optimism might be misplaced; if I thought about the situation from DC’s perspective, they had no reason to give permission to reproduce that wouldn’t net them any money. It would turn out he was more or less correct. DC Comics has not denied me permission, but they have ceased responding to me.
UTP and I have come up with two viable workarounds. First, one of the benefits of a digital-only journal is that I can link readers to a relevant page on my own personal website, where I have already reproduced the images for presenting similar work [http://christopherzeichmann.com/superman/]. DC is normally quite happy to have fansites promote their properties, so long as they do not reproduce entire comics and do profit from it – that is, I don’t have much to worry about myself. Second, there are a few obscure-but-relevant comic book stories that are in the public domain, including the famous one up above of Superman threatening Adolf Hitler. UTP and I have not yet decided on which of the two (or a combination thereof) we might adopt, but all hope is not lost. All of this to say, if you’re hoping to reproduce images of a major intellectual property in an article, it may be good to have backup options.
Christopher B. Zeichmann’s article on Superman and Jewish identity, titled “Champion of the Oppressed: Redescribing the Jewishness of Superman as Populist Authenticity Politics,” appears in the Summer 2017 issue of the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. Available to read on JRPC Online or on Project MUSE.