Bill Willingham puts his entire Fables comic book property into public domain

Bill Willingham, the writer/creator of the comic book series Fables, published by DC Comics, has announced on Thursday that he is putting the entire property in the public domain. Fables is a massively popular comic book series, and it has won fourteen Eisner awards.

All Fables stories and characters are now owned by everyone, and anyone can publish new Fables stories using what were once Willingham's characters. Willingham says that he signed a creator-owned publishing contract with DC Comics, so he owns the property, with DC as its exclusive publisher. In a press release (dated Septebmer 15), he explains the two reasons he's done this.

First, he cites "Practicality." He says that DC Comics has not lived up to its contract with him, and so instead of fighting to prevent DC from grabbing rights he says are not theirs, he will give them away to the public.

Since I can't afford to sue DC, to force them to live up to the letter and the spirit of our long-time agreements; since even winning such a suit would take ridiculous amounts of money out of my pocket and years out of my life (I'm 67 years old, and don't have the years to spare), I've decided to take a different approach, and fight them in a different arena, inspired by the principles of asymmetric warfare. The one thing in our contract the DC lawyers can't contest, or reinterpret to their own benefit, is that I am the sole owner of the intellectual property. I can sell it or give it away to whomever I want.

I chose to give it away to everyone. If I couldn't prevent Fables from falling into bad hands, at least this is a way I can arrange that it also falls into many good hands. Since I truly believe there are still more good people in the world than bad ones, I count it as a form of victory.

Secondly, he cites "Philosophy." Willingham says he wanted to be true to his philosophical approach to intellectual property.

In my template for radical reform of those laws I would like it if any IP is owned by its original creator for up to twenty years from the point of first publication, and then goes into the public domain for any and all to use. …

Of course, if I'm going to believe such radical ideas, what kind of hypocrite would I be if I didn't practice them?

There are still some questions, such as what exactly his contract with DC Comics provides for with regard to copyright, and by what mechanism he is handing his rights over to the public domain, but he claims to have the right to do this.

Note that my contracts with DC Comics are still in force. I did nothing to break them, and cannot unilaterally end them. I still can't publish Fables comics through anyone but them. …

However, you, the new 100% owner of Fables never signed such agreements. For better or worse, DC and I are still locked together in this unhappy marriage, perhaps for all time.

But you aren't.