[Groop]Question for Mark

Mark Evanier mail@evanier.com
Tue, 25 Feb 2003 09:29:54 -0800

On Tue, 25 Feb 2003 08:56:55 -0800, "Grossmann, Gary"
<GaryG@DOR.WA.GOV> wrote:

>Some of the Norweigen Groo comics I have from the early 90's (Thanks Ronny!)
>are actually a digest of comics called "Humor Paraden." (Humor Parade)
>Many of them contain a comic version of the TV show "Married With Children."
>My questions is:  Do the actors receive anything or have any rights with
>respect to the use of their likenesses?  On the one hand the drawings are
>likenesses of characters to whom the actors have no ownership.  On the other
>hand, it's the actors' faces.  Is this sort of thing covered in "standard"

ME: Yes, and the way it usually works is that the actor does not own
his likeness in the context of the show.  For example, I produce a
show called WILD GROO FANATIC.  I cast actor Gary Grossmann in it.  I
can make deals to make lunch boxes, posters, t-shirts and even comic
books based on my show.  I own the visual look of that show, which
includes Gary Grossmann's likeness.  If Gary has the standard industry
contract, he gets a share (a tiny one that may never yield a dime) of
the money that merchandising brings in to the show.

Now, Gary can go out and do his own merchandising of his likeness.  He
can put out a Gary Grossmann poster and as long as it doesn't infringe
on my area, I have nothing to do with that.  In other words, William
Shatner could sell a poster of himself but not in his Captain Kirk
suit, because the latter would be STAR TREK merchandise.  There have
actually been lawsuits where, for example, John Travolta had a poster
come out of himself while he was doing WELCOME BACK, KOTTER and to
him, it was just a John Travolta poster that had nothing to do with
them.  But the producers of KOTTER claimed that John was displaying
the "look" of the Vinnie Barbarino character from that show, wearing
his hair in a way that he only wore it on the show.  So they argued
over than and settled it somehow, and John put out his John Travolta
posters, while the show put out a very similar poster that said on it,
"John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino."  The latter was considered KOTTER
merchandise, whereas John's own poster wasn't.  Often, when you see
merchandise from a show, they'll put the character name on a photo so
they can argue it's a likeness of the character, not of the actor.

In the case of a drawn comic book, which puts those likenesses in the
context of the show's format, the clear position would be that the
artists were drawing the characters (which the show owned) so that
would not be in dispute.

All of this presumes standard contracts.  Bigger stars manage to get
different arrangements.  For example, my friend Dan Spiegle used to
draw a lot of comic books for Dell and Gold Key that adapted movies
but where the studio didn't have the rights to the stars' likenesses.
The stars had retained that in their deal and wanted extra money
and/or approvals, so Dan had to make up a generic face.
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