God Does Not Own This World

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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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
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So the author of a work is considered to be its ultimate authority - maybe they are the creator, director and/or producer, had the initial idea for the work (or at least its current version) alongside most of the ideas that went into it, and/or is the considered final authority regarding canon. So they must "own" this fictional work—right?

Not quite.

Often, the main difficulty in creating fiction comes down to matters of either funding or copyright - usually both - and the process frequently ends with the creator giving all the legal rights of their hard work to some big company in exchange for getting the work financed. Alternately, a creator may be in a "work for hire" situation where they are paid to do the writing for their employer, who then owns whatever they produce. This in turn opens the door to the deal backfiring for the following reasons:

  1. The author is subject to Executive Meddling and can't do anything about it, losing their absolute creative control of the work.
  2. If "the work" becomes successful thanks to their input, even if the company gains a fortune thanks to it, the author won't be able to earn any of it beyond their salary, let alone share in any of the windfall themselves.
  3. The author won't be able to use their work independently without executive approval - and even if the author gets permission to use their work and creations, they'll most likely be obliged to pay royalties for it.
  4. The author's interpretations of canon are subject to change by the executives, who can even simply hire another creator 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.

Whatever the above scenario (or combination thereof), it can be said that God Does Not Own This World - a painful situation for any creator to be in, no doubt. 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.

Examples of God Does Not Own This World include:

Comic Books

  • 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 Discontinuity 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 W.I.T.C.H. 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.

Film

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 & 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.)

Live-Action TV

  • The Wild Wild West: CBS did not want the show's creator Michael Garrison to be overseeing the show because of how much the pilot had cost, which led to Garrison having a legal battle with the Eye throughout season one before getting control back. Eventually, Garrison did get in a producer to his liking in the form of Bruce Lansbury... but CBS still got a Garrison-less show in the end, though not in the manner anyone would have preferred.

Music

  • Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield had created a derivative version of David Bowie's Space Oddity which contained actual footage of the astronaut performing a version of the song on the International Space Station. The video was widely distributed and well-regarded, but was then abruptly pulled as the derivative relied on buying a paid licence for the original work... which Bowie no longer controlled, and which had been purchased for a fixed one-year term from whatever faceless corporation had taken Bowie's rights to his own music.
    • At least Chris Hadfield was able to negotiate a longer license for the audio before his album Songs from a Tin Can was released, so we can at least listen to this cover.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons hasn't been owned by its original creators in well over thirty 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, the Forgotten Realms setting was originally created by Ed Greenwood and became known to public via series of articles in TSR's Dragon magazine in the 1980s. 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. And then continuity editing decayed until it became nonexistent, while Jeff Grubb (the man who put together cohesive multiverse of AD&D1-2 era as we know it and helped to make FR a game setting) lost influence and eventually left. As for the FR, Greenwood continued to have some gradually decreasing input, or at least the right to complain, while TSR/Wizards/Hasbro ends up sitting on a huge pile of material it buried - during about two decades - behind NDA.
      • ...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 explicit objections of both Ed Greenwood and R.A. Salvatore (whose series, obviously, were the main cash cows and promotional materials in FR). Essentially making effectively a new setting that tries to capitalize on the notoriety of Forgotten Realms and recycles some names from it (Ed Greenwood is good with names, which seems to be in short supply). It doesn't help that the setting itself looks like there was little effort put into it beyond tearing apart old FR: it has most of the distinctive features removed and introduced little material not obviously "borrowed" from elsewhere (like rebranded dragonmarks from Eberron or the whole totally-not-Exalted-ripoff jumble with "Primordials"). Naturally, this wasn't received well.
    • 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.


Video Games

  • 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 Discontinuity.
  • 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 Discontinuity.
  • 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

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