In 1968, an American Independent Horror Film directed by George A. Romero forever scarred audiences with visions of zombies shambling across the silver screen. Who would’ve known then the “undying” love of these creatures would continue to breathe until present day?
One of the best memories of Halloween for me was recreating monsters portrayed on screen and stalking through our neighborhoods, door to door. Long hours of care were put into makeup, sewing, and crafting. If your mother or grandmother had a gift for such things, you might have a leg up on the others. For those kids who didn’t have this advantage, Halloween was a time for them to challenge their artistic and creative side. (Those aren’t wood boxes, those are Frankenstein’s shoes!)
Years later, there were a few movie studios who challenged the right to purchase costumes and began a war by copyrighting/licensing them. I think for many of us, it killed a little piece of Halloween in our hearts. Halloween, for those who ran to the stores as soon as they were stocked for the holiday, began to see an increase in prices reflecting the added costs. On the bright side, it further encouraged families to be more creative.
Since then, copyright laws have grown deep, hidden roots.
In the mid-to late 2000’s, comic conventions and Cosplayers faced backlash when corporations attempted to make their move in this arena. NOTE: I’m not a lawyer, and I will never claim to have an expert grasp of the fine print of the law. But I would like to make a note to the creators of these characters who we love so much: Without this craze for dressing up to embody the spirit of our inspirations, would you have the free publicity and continued success you have now?
Let’s use our original example: Zombies.
It would be impossible to count the number of movies, books, poems, and costumes that personify the zombie culture. Does any one person actually “own” it though? Can you put a copyright on a type of zombie and claim it as your own? The background story, of course. If there’s a unique quality which can be proven without a doubt to be uniquely yours, I suppose you could.
I, for one, am all for the Right of Creativity and Expression. I want to see my beloved characters explored in new ways when it does not harm the integrity or reputation of the original. Call it my inner Geek-dom, or call it my rebel nature. Whatever you call it, I know I’m not the only person who has sat down and analyzed a movie and the creature’s plausibility. (Can a zombie really run after being dead for 30 days? Can a werewolf really rip out of its skin and no one find the remains, then just shift back?)
We are grateful for George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) because it gave us a reason to fear the dark, but because it also made us ask, “What if?”
What if we could rise after we died? Would we be hungry for brains? Why brains? Would we attack other humans? Why not animals? Would our bodies have muscle memory of how to open doors? Would there be any brain function, and if there was, would it be enough to shamble…let alone run?
There are Voodoo Zombies, there are Fungus Zombies, there are Virus Zombies, there are medically induced zombies … while you can argue that some characters are recognizable (Jason, Ash, Freddie) … are zombies?
I mean they shouldn’t be. They’re dead! And if you want to get really nit-picky, once you’re dead, you relinquish rights to everything. Right??
Ok, Ok, not the same thing. I know this post is half-silly, half-serious, but I’m curious. As the CEO of a small, independent publishing company, I see this everyday. People never grow tired of zombies (or vampires, or werewolves, or demons, or … ). I have to admit, neither do I.
Mark Deloy came to me with an idea last year. I wanted to do a fun anthology so he asked, “How about Monsters Vs Zombies?” and my heart swelled with love. Man, this was a great idea! I couldn’t wait! When we put out the “open call” for our anthology, Monsters Vs Zombies I ended up with more than I bargained for. I wasn’t the only one who loved the idea.
We had hundreds of submissions. That’s not so unusual you might say. I normally would agree, except I must remind you…we are a small, independent publishing company and we had been “alive” for less than a year! There were so many good stories I could not refuse all of them. I decided I would have to do two volumes. That’s when the idea came to us. We would make it an annual anthology! So many monsters, so many zombies. This could go on, and on, and still remain fun!
None of this would be possible if the word, or concept of “zombie” fell under protection of Copyright Laws.
Now, I’m an author, and I’m a creator. I do understand the importance of such laws. But I also understand-as humans-we are storytellers. We write what we know. There are no ‘new’ stories to be told, my friends. Only new angles and plots. It’s a dangerous road, for sure. I, for one, try as hard as I can to be original but I cannot help but pay homage to my heroes and inspirations.
When I wrote The Unfleshed: Tale of the Autopsic Bride I knew that it was similar to the story of Bride of Frankenstein but it was my own version. I changed enough of it to – hopefully – never be accused of “stealing” or “offending” its creator … The creator who made the movie as a follow up to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Universal may own the rights to the green, box-head-and-bolts appearance of the Frankenstein Monster, but Mary Shelley is the only person who owns the words who inspired the look.
Chime in! What are your thoughts?