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"...I have a territorial instinct that exhibits a kind of knee-jerk negative reaction to seeing other people controlling the destiny of my characters. (That's the main reason why Goliath Chronicles was so painful for me to watch.)"
Greg Weisman, creator of Gargoyles

So the author of this work is considered to be the ultimate authority of this work, maybe he is the creator, director, or producer of this fictional work. He had the initial idea of this fictional work (or at least this version of it) and most ideas are his, not to mention that he is the final authority regarding Canon. He must "own" this fictional work -- right?

Except not... The main difficulty of creating a fictional work is not always a creative issue. Very often the creator of a fictional work is unable to produce his work the way he wants without money. Other times he wants to use characters he doesn't own. The only way the author is able to produce his work, or using the characters he likes but doesn't own, is by giving all the legal rights of his hard work to some big company in exchange for getting his work financed.

While this removes all the production costs, it can backfire for the author for the following reasons:

  1. The author is subject to Executive Meddling and can't do anything about it, losing his absolute creative control of the work.
  2. If "the work" becomes successful thanks to his input, even if the company gains a fortune thanks to it, the author won't be able to become rich himself or earn more money beyond his salary.
  3. The author won't be able to use his work independently without executive approval - and even if the author gets permission, the author will most likely be obliged to pay royalties for using his own work/creations.
  4. The author's Word of God can be demoted to Fan Fiction, while the executives can arm someone else with canon to change the work or "interpret it differently".
  5. If the company doesn't want the original author, they simply replace/fire him from the project.


This can be very painful for the author losing all their "control" of their work despite being the main creative force behind it and the ultimate authority of it. However some fans may still consider them as "Word of God" in spite of this, and even hold them in higher regard.

Sometimes, a creator may try to Torch the Franchise and Run in response to this situation.

Epic Poem of Thor and Loki is often confused for this trope, as often there are mulitple creators of a single work, each with the same amount of claim on the work (and some more than others).

Examples of God Does Not Own This World include:


Comics

  • For Sandman there is an interesting semi-exception in a medium (American comics) where it is very common: DC Comics own the work, and can use characters from it without consulting Neil Gaiman in any way ... but it wouldn't occur to anyone currently working there to do so, mostly because Gaiman's portrayal of them is so iconic that any appearance by a Sandman character written by anyone else would be considered Canon Dis Continuity at best.
    • To date, due to a reluctance to include characters from the Vertigo line in the 'mainstream' DC universe, the only appearance of a Sandman character in the main DC line since the original Sandman series concluded was the Daniel version of Dream. They had no need to ask permission but at least gave the courtesy of a heads-up to Neil Gaiman, who looked the dialogue over and thought it was pretty damn good. A reference to the Green Lantern Ring as a "wishing ring" is one he wishes he thought of himself.
    • Paul Cornell also ran his use of the Endless version of Death during "The Black Ring" arc by Gaiman and got approved. Generally, the only one of the Endless that is used without Gaiman's permission is Destiny, the only member of the family not created by Gaiman. Destiny predated The Sandman by many years (and was host of one of DC's horror anthology comics) and was retconned into the Endless by Gaiman. His personality has stayed pretty consistent, so it's not seen as any problem.
  • Likewise, no one would use Starman characters without at least giving James Robinson a heads-up.
  • Pat Mills created a whole bunch of strips for Two Thousand AD, but he owns none of them; however, due to his influence, it's very rare that anyone else is allowed to write any of them. Mills famously blocked the publication of an ABC Warriors strip by Alan Moore for decades, and also got pissy at Andy Diggle for commissioning a new Satanus series from Robbie Morrison, despite the fact that Mills had originally resurrected Satanus in story he wrote for Judge Dredd, for which he came up with the name and nothing else.
  • The creators of Superman sold the rights to him early on (for $65, for each of them!), but later fought tooth and nail just to get some recognition.
  • This was standard practice in comic strips until the 1980s and Bill Watterson's famous fight to prevent Calvin and Hobbes merchandise. Today, creators generally own all rights to their strips, or have a contract that reverts all rights back to them after a certain number of years.
  • The creators of WITCH were screwed out of their comic only halfway through the first arc, leading the story to go in a very different direction than what was originally intended.
  • Rob Liefeld was annoyed that Peter David revealed that Shatterstar (a character he created) was gay, and posted that he couldn't wait to revert it (back to "asexual, and struggling to understand human behavior", not straight). Joe Quesada responded that Liefeld would have to get permission from the next editor-in-chief, and Peter David has since confirmed Shatterstar's bisexuality.
    • And a new Editor in Chief has come, and still no sign of Marvel changing it.
  • Another semi-exception exists in the case of Judge Dredd. It was originally conceived by John Wagner (writer) and Carlos Ezquerra (artist), but copyright and publication rights lie with Rebellion (at present). Plenty of other writers regularly write new material, but an unofficial understanding exists that only John Wagner is allowed to alter the status quo.
  • Marvel Comics owns all of its characters and their have been many legal battles fought by the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Gerber (creator of Howard the Duck) and even Stan Lee himself over compensation.
  • Steve Ditko reportedly left the Spider-Man franchise because he did not like the directions co-creator Stan Lee was taking with the character.
  • One of the reasons for founding Image Comics was that artists and writers working for Marvel and DC wanted to own their own properties, avoiding this very trope.
  • Some time when you're bored, Google "Before Watchmen reactions". Alan Moore does not own the Watchmen, and man, is he pissed about DC's upcoming prequels. (Which is kind of funny, given some of the stuff Moore himself has done with characters someone else created.)
  • This is why it took so long for Groo the Wanderer to be published -- Sergio Aragones did not want Groo to be owned by anyone else but him, but in the late '70s, the default assumption was that comics had to be "work for hire". It was only with Destroyer Duck and the advent of "creator-owned labels" that sprung up in the wake of Steve gerber's protests over Marvel's ownership of Howard the Duck that Aragones found an imprint that he could feel comfortable publishing Groo with. (Ironically, Groo's longest-running imprint was actually a subdivision of Marvel, their creator-owned "Epic" imprint.)
  • The Fourth World series by Jack Kirby were his distinctive DC Comics creation, but he was never able to tell his stories the way he intended and its concepts and characters like Darkseid were integrated into the The DCU completely instead.


Films


Literature

  • L J Smith was fired from writing The Vampire Diaries by the company that owns the rights, allegedly because she disagreed with them about who the heroine should be romantically paired with at the end. The company intends to get someone else in to write it the way they want.
  • Tying into the below-mentioned Tabletop Games, R.A. Salvatore doesn't own the rights to the stuff he's written based off Dungeons and Dragons. He tried to end The Legend of Drizzt, but backed down after being told that a different writer would continue the story. It's suspected by some that the series's recent decline in quality is an attempt to Torch the Franchise and Run, but another theory is that he's simply out of ideas (which, of course, would explain why he tried to end it in the first place.)


Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons and Dragons hasn't been owned by its original creators in well over twenty years, ever since Gary Gygax had control of TSR wrested from him in the mid-1980's. Strangely enough, despite being the Trope Codifier for the entire RPG concept, Gygax has had very little effect on advancing the game's canon since it was first created. He created the original Greyhawk setting, but was involved very little with it afterwards before eventually leaving the company because of massive Executive Meddling. Very few gamers would actively prefer Gygax's game mechanics to what is produced today, though there is a certain flavor in classic adventures like Temple of Elemental Evil and the Tomb of Horrors made during his tenure that make for fun throwbacks.
    • Likewise, Ed Greenwood had originally created the Forgotten Realms setting through a series of articles published in TSR's Dragon magazine in the late 80's. TSR eventually bought the rights to the setting outright, publishing it in a comprehensive campaign boxed set. Since then, it had been a playground for authors like R.A. Salvatore to publish mostly original novels based in the setting's backdrop, almost turning it into an Expanded Universe. As for the setting itself, Greenwood continued to have some gradually decreasing input, or at least the right to complain, all the way until the release of 4th Edition, where the Spellplague and other interdimensional weirdness caused The End of the World as We Know It against his explicit objections.
    • Dragonlance is currently owned by Wizards of the Coast, and not by Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis, or Jeff Grubb, all three of whom (Among many) who contributed greatly to the setting.


Videogames

  • Bungie Studios: The creator of the Halo franchise. After they were bought by Microsoft all the legal rights of their franchise now were owned by Microsoft. Despite the fact that Bungie Studios is the ultimate authority of the franchise, and created the Universe Bible and all the important elements of the franchise itself. Now that they are independent all their work after their separation, now belongs to the studio. By all accounts the Bungie-Halo is a rare amicable example of this trope, as Bungie simply decided they had definitively wrapped up the franchise for themselves, and wanted to do something different after 10 years, and so handed the franchise over to 343 Industries.
    • It should be noted that 343i has a number of former Bungie employees in its employ, alongside those who worked with the late Pandemic Studios.
  • It happened to the creators of the F.E.A.R. videogame series. It got to the point where another company made a sequel to their series, while they had to rename their own canon sequel for legal purposes. When they got the F.E.A.R. name back they immediately put the other games into Canon Dis Continuity.
  • This happened to Al Lowe when the post-Williams Sierra decided to create new Leisure Suit Larry games without consulting him. He doesn't care for either of them and considers them Canon Dis Continuity.
  • Also happened to Toys For Bob with Star Control 3, although unusually for this circumstance, Toys For Bob do retain the rights to the setting itself, just not the right to create "Star Control" branded games.
  • This happened to Toby Gard with Tomb Raider when he objected to making Lara bustier and ended up axed from the sequel. He came back as a consultant after Angel Of Darkness tanked, but Eidos (and its parent company Square Enix) still holds the rights to Lara Croft.


Western Animation

Notes

  1. The franchise itself existed prior to her career in animation.
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