IP Jungle Survival Guide

Gijon Mili / Stan Wayman / © Time Inc.

If this little pocket of humanity we inhabit that we like to call “the literary creative industry” were a dinner party, the main topic of conversation right now would be intellectual property. What a boring dinner conversation! you’re probably thinking, and you would be right if the talk was limited to lawyers and their legal-ish lawyer-speak and  hypothetical questions like an endless loop of the last scene of The People Vs. Larry Flynt. While “intellectual property” as a legal concept sounds stale and corporate, when you reconsider it to mean “all the things I create while I hunch over my drawing table and writing desk all weekend” it takes on new urgency.

Recent flare-ups on the subject in the comics world have brought about a raft of new ideas and “huh, I should have thought of that” moments, along with an expected raft of old-guard defensiveness and misunderstandings of the facts. I don’t think the flare-ups are evidence of any kind of centralized movement or counter-movement taking place in the field of creative property development, only a coincidental closeness of unrelated court cases and controversial IP development decisions. However, I think the result of these coincidences will be old-school consciousness-raising: the events under discussion will remain static but the future of creators’ relationships with their chosen avenues of production will be better informed, if not completely revolutionized. We’ve written here before about technology’s gift to publishing: an explosion of content and audience expansion that any other industry would envy, even as the traditional structures for introducing author to audience change. The same goes for IP ownership and development: the old way of centralizing the creative works of many into a corporate IP exploitation engine was yesterday. As it changes, those properties and their engines will remain in place while the next generation develops new multi-partner models that will give us an explosion of fun new ideas. We’re already seeing it in the projects we’re hired to work on here at Letter Better, and we can’t wait to see more.

In an effort to help out where we can, we’re going to run a series of posts on the subject of IP (again, just shorthand for “stuff you spend your time making”) with no planned schedule or frequency but across a variety of topics that seem to be of interest to creators. These are all informed by our professional experience dealing with these topics, not just things we’ve overheard in bars. We’ll devote a separate series of posts to the topic of things we’ve overheard in bars.

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Good Books and Hard Work

Working for Ralph Vicinanza, as I did for a few months right out of college, was a master class in the publishing business. While at work, Ralph didn’t have much time for anything besides work, so there were none of the long philosophical happy hours and lunches and weekly check-ins that became the norm in all my following relationships with bosses. What I got instead was clear direction and brief, efficient interactions, often with quick, almost accidentally imparted insights into his many years of accumulated wisdom, if I was paying attention. The man lived books and spent his entire career making them more widely available, so it made sense that he would casually drop more book knowledge into a conversation about the broken copy machine than some industry pros can pack into a lecture. My time at that agency was barely a blink but I consciously recall more lessons from it than I do from all my following jobs combined.

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