The USA Network series Fairly Legal stars Sarah Shahi as a legal mediator.
In the latest episode, “Ripple of Hope“, her assistant Leo (Baron Vaughn) has a friend Ashley (Laci J. Mailey) who created “XX Chromo”, a “girl superhero” whose first issue “sold 36,000 copies in a week”. Unfortunately, Ashley did it work for hire and got paid $700. Leo brings his friend to the law firm to help her get the rights he thinks she deserves.
Her character name is Ashley Woods, which I guess means the show writers didn’t know of the existing comic artist Ashley Wood. The prop was mocked up as a comic book, but we think it was meant to be a graphic novel, since Leo refers to it that way later, and the sales numbers would be more impressive that way. The publisher is Wonderbomb Media, hee hee.
I was impressed to see that creator rights are now a mainstream enough issue to feature on a TV show like this one. (It’s only the B story, though — the main plot involves a hunger strike at a women’s prison.) They cite how the Superman creators signed away all their rights but later “got some of them back”, using that as a foundation for their legal research.
The case turns on the idea that if you sign away your termination rights, which is not legal to do, that can void the contract. Leo also brings up the definition of work for hire as “a contribution to a collective work” “specially ordered or commissioned”. Since, in this case, the woman created the comic and brought it to the publisher, it fails those first two tests. They offer to settle by giving her 10% of any comic featuring her character in future.
The tagline of the comic is “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” There’s also comment about how comics get movie deals. Strangely, there’s no mention of an artist in all this. They note several times that Ashley wrote the comic, but they don’t say whether she drew it or someone else did. Since she’s shown with colorfully streaked hair and punky clothes, they may be implying she’s the artist through the visuals.