Pipeline2, Issue #42: Comic Book Public License


Last week I talked about the similarities between open source programming and comics. On the surface, there are some interesting parallels to be drawn. However, they're still completely different beasts. To apply some sort of public license to comics, one has to envision a completely new mold to make comics from, and I'm still not terribly convinced it's a professional model. The choice I've made here this week is to come up with something similar to open source that will more or less put a character in a controlled public domain setting. The original creator maintains rights to the character, much as Linus Torvalds does as benevolent dictator of the Linux code. Everyone, however, is allowed to play in the sandbox.


The first step would be to create the characters and license them freely. Use the GNU Public License or something that would allow anyone to contribute to the characters' development. Of course, in creative endeavors such as these, too many cooks can often spoil the broth. But may the most creative mind win!

So I propose a CBPL: Comic Book Public License. Any character licensed under the CBPL is freely available for anyone to use for any purposes. This opens the gates for Internet creators to produce writing samples with the character. Artists can do their own interpretations. Communities can spring up to help guide the character, if people so wish. The character can appear in "mainstream" comic if a professional sees a use for him. (Imagine CBPL-Man showing up as a subplot of HELLBOY or something.)

The character can be used by anyone so long as the indicia or the text page somewhere mentions the name of the creator and the CPL under which it is licensed.

This helps to settle claims from people who say others are benefiting financially from their creativity. Maybe so. But the creator's name is out there, too, and could even be considered more valuable.

Creators can add any sort of stipulations they like, as well. If they want to assure that the character never appears in an "adult comic," for example, then they can add that in.

Basically, the creator has the right to limit the usage of the character in a way such that he or she can live with himself or herself. Anyone using the character agrees to the stipulations in the CBPL.

It's like public domain but with more creator control.

So how does this help a creator? Well, for one, it gives him or her the chance to practice his or her art. (And for simplicity's sakes, I'm going with the masculine from here on out. I betcha 95% of those reading this are of the male variety anyway. But that's a whole 'nother topic for another time.)


The Comic Book Public License (CBPL) is shamelessly modeled after the Free Software Foundation's GNU Public License, which covers, amongst other thing, the Linux operating system.

This license is designed to allow creators to throw their creations out to the public to do with as they see fit, within certain creator-imposed guidelines. This license covers any portion of the comic book creative process from original scripts to finished art. This license may be used to cover a finished book or a character thumbnail description.

This will allow for a uniquely collaborative process amongst Internet and real world comic book fanboys. Creators can learn by example. If there's a weakness in his or her story and someone else wants to rewrite it to show how it could be made better, that's great. If a writer is looking for an artist to collaborate with him, many people could be given the chance to interpret that creator's script without trouble.


0. This license applies to any creative piece of work that contains this notice from the copyright holder saying that it may be freely distributed and modified.

1. The license holder (hereinafter referred to as "you") may reproduce, transfer, or copy the original property in any medium so long as this license is properly referred to in the copyright statement. (Obviously, in places where it would not be feasible to include all this text - the back of a page of art, for example - a simple mention of the license and/or URL where this text may be found would suffice.)

2. The elastic clause: As creator, you may make any modifications to this license you wish, so long as you then do not say your creation is protected explicitly by the CBPL. (Make the name a derivation - 'The CBPL-Pipeline Version,' for example.) Such additions would most likely be in restrictions to content addition. If you don't want your character starring in the latest bit of web porn, then you may add a section stating so. Only the originator of the character under this license may affect the license under which he or she is covered. Nobody following up on the originator may change this elastic clause.

3. You may charge any fee you wish for reproduction or retransmission of the work protected by the CBPL. This allows for greater distribution of work. It's just like the different distributions of Linux. Although all of the software contained in it is just downloaded off the Internet, you have the right to charge for materials used in duplication, as well as any editorial work done on same, such as introductions for various pieces.

4. You may modify anything under the protection of this license so long as you follow these guidelines:

  • You must place the new work under the protection of this exact same license. No modification may be made to it. Copies of the new work, thus, may be made free of charge.
  • You must give credit where it is due to the origin of the work.
  • A copy of this license must be provided with the work.

5. You may only make use of the creative property covered by this license in a way consistent with this license. To do otherwise would be to violate this license and cause you to lose your rights to the creative property. The original creator, however, would in no way forfeit his rights as written under this license.

6. If you wish to use characters under the CBPL in other sorts of open source projects, write the holder of the character licensed under the CBPL first to assure that the creator's wishes, such as conflicting public licenses, are followed.


I'm no lawyer. This is loose verbiage. If anyone wants to run with this, I hereby place the previous text in the public domain. Change it, alter it, distribute it as you like. I like the concept, but I'm not so sure I like this execution of it. Some of the finer details should be worked out, if people so wish to, in some sort of creative committee, with the aid of some legal types. I hope this serves as a jumping-off point, though.


As it turns out, I'm not the first to run down this train of thought. I received an e-mail earlier this week from Pipeline reader Barry Lyga, who runs the "Open Source Fiction Site". His open source fiction license is much more radical than the one I propose here, but also more true to the spirit of open source programming. It's definitely worth taking a look at. The site linked to here is the prototype. The full site will be arriving in the next couple of months, I'm told. But for now you can read what its goals are and what its license entails. I'll be sure to remind you all of it when it's completely up and running then.

In the meantime, drop by again on Tuesday for a bunch of new comics reviews. And next Friday we'll do something a little less wonky. I'm thinking a look at the new PREVIEWS due out this Wednesday might be a nice idea.

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