Marvel Rights?

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I have always liked Marvel Comics; ever since I was a lad sweeping chimneys with me pappyÖ..Was that me? I forget. Anyway, the point is Marvel presented me with heroes that were (to coin a phrase used to great effect by my brother) "a bit broken." No matter what DC does, Superman is and always will be the perfect Boy Scout. Itís part of what makes him who he is and if that serves him up for criticism, then so be it, and it shouldnít be changed. Marvel, on the other hand, gives you Thor, a big scary guy who speaks funny and could match Superman for power, but tethers him to a cripple, or makes him a nurse who suffered a nervous breakdown. Daredevil is blind, Spiderman is broke more often than not and Wolverine is the most popular hairy backed man I think I have ever encountered. Every hero has a caveat that makes him that bit more endearing. I loved this about Marvel because it lacks the condescension that I often feel is being levelled at me when I read DC. This image was reinforced when Marvel declared bankruptcy in 1997/98 as DC continued to be part of the monster that is AOL Time Warner. To me, Marvel was always the good guys, the underdog scrapping and fighting and doing just enough to keep going. This was a grave mistake on my part and one I may well regret for some time to come. I attributed the desperate heroism, the last gasp push, the final gambit attitude of their heroes to the company as well; I donít think I have ever been so wrong.

About a year ago I stumbled across an online game called City of Heroes, and I was hooked just by reading the idea alone. Ever wanted to be a Superhero? Ever wanted to patrol a city and fight evil using a myriad of powers? Ever wanted to wear spandex outside and not be locked up? This game promised it all and more besides. I spent the money and got it shipped over here to Scotland months before it was officially released this side of the pond, and you know what? It was everything I had hoped. Flying through a city for the first time, earning your cape or duking it out with your first super villain is a big freaking deal, and I adored every minute of it.

Want a rough idea of what playing the game is like but donít have the net? Buy Gravity issue #2. I just finished reading it and all I could think about was how similar to playing City of Heroes the story was. You immerse yourself in a completely surreal world where you can team up with people all over the planet. It can be pretty intimidating stepping out onto the big, bad streets without any friends and only a smattering of powers. Your first team up is a momentous occasion, you and another person coming together, combining powers and the scrapings of knowledge youíve managed to get in the few days youíve been playing. As time wears on, the types of evil you fight changes, from street level gangs to zombies, to clandestine organisations surviving from the Second World War to Ultra powerful Super-villains. Anything you have ever wanted to do as a super hero (within reason, having sex with Wonder Woman isnít on the cards) is here. Want to fly, Want super speed, intangibility, invulnerability, teleportation, the ability to heal or to create beasts to fight for you? I could try and list all the powers you can have, but I couldnít as the game keeps evolving. You can join a Super group or fly solo, and every type of hero has different strengths and weaknesses. Certain missions require you to team up to tackle something particularly hard, while others can be handled alone. Being part of a Super group will soon mean you can have your own base of operations. Most importantly, City of Villains is about to fully launched. Want to be a Villain? Want to fight it out with heroes and rule the world? Then this is for you. Soon running Super battles between human controlled heroes and villains will be accessible to all. Itís every comic book story you have ever read rolled into one. Is it perfect? No, youíll be tearing your hair out trying to get your French super partner to use his fire blasts at a safer range so he doesnít detonate a bomb and kill you both, but hey! Who said being a hero was easy?

So it was with great distress that I read Marvel was suing the creators of City of Heroes for copyright infringement amongst other things.

Marvelís position was that due to the vast customisation available to make your character look the way you want him\her\it to look, you must be able to design something that looks like any one of the hundred or more heroes Marvel hold the copyrights for, citing Wolverine and The Hulk as examples.

This is the first time a publisher has been sued over content created by its CUSTOMERS. Should Marvel win, it could spell disaster for the video games industry as customisation would need to be severely restricted to avoid such legal woes in the future.

This is the most disgusting attempt at a lawsuit I think I have ever seen. For a company who has attempted to create their own Superman about fifty times to get shirty over someone else (A fan no less!) creating someone who looks a bit like a character they own the rights to is hypocritical to the point of lunacy. How can they justify this sort of behaviour?

Well, rumour has it the lawsuit has more to do with Marvel planning to launch its own massive multiplayer online role playing game (or mmorpg for all you hardcore gamers) than it has to do with a genuine concern over copyright infringement. So itís just a blatant attempt to get rid of the competition so Marvel can make more money from merchandising. While it may be understandable that a company that went under due to poor comic sales and weak editing may want to support themselves in other ways, it isnít acceptable to do it by stepping on the people who carved out the niche for you.

I can tell you that at the end of last year more than half of the claims made by Marvel were dismissed by the Judge. In addition, certain exhibits were stricken as "false and sham" as they were not created by players but by Marvel to show what "could" happen. I honestly wonder how it got to court in the first place.

I find myself running low on superlatives here, so I will leave you with this final thought straight from the thought bubble of John Turtizin, VP for Marvel: ďWe have not and will not sue customers of City of Heroes," he said. "Please continue to support the world of comic books, but if you want Marvel characters, please buy a Marvel-licensed game."

This might have read more true had it said: ďPlease donít hurt our profits by not buying our merchandise simply because we have no scruples. Instead buy a Marvel-licensed game."

[EDITOR'S NOTE: SBC's Silver Soapbox is an Op-Ed Forum. The opinions provided by the writer do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SBC's administration.]

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