5 Famous Works That Were Just Half-Assed Copyright Abuses

#2. Marvel Created a Superhero Just So They'd Own the Name

Marvel Comics

The original Captain Marvel (the little kid who pulls a Big whenever he says "Shazam!") is actually owned by Marvel's biggest competitor, DC Comics -- the character was created in the '40s by another company called Fawcett Comics, but DC sued them out of existence due to the similarities with Superman, and eventually they ended up buying the guy.

DC Comics
Presumably just so they could do this.

In the meantime, while the character was out of publication due to the legal clusterfuck, Marvel swooped in and trademarked the name for themselves, just so DC wouldn't have it. That's why, despite having paid good money to own the real Captain Marvel, DC can't actually put the name on their covers. The thing about trademarks, though, is that if you don't use them, you lose them. (The best legal advice always rhymes.) And so it was that Stan Lee, no stranger to last-minute character design, set about creating a detailed, inventive, and rich world for Captain Marvel to inhabit. His secret identity? "Mar-Vell."

Marvel Comics
The most interesting thing he did was die.

Captain Marvel has never been a hit, but as long as they want to keep the trademark valid, they have to keep putting out comics about him every once in a while ... which explains why a character with little effort put into his creation and that does not really sell comics has had seven different incarnations and six series. How much money do you sink into keeping something from being free before "just make it free" becomes the more profit-savvy decision?

#1. The Original Hobbit Movie Was Made Just to Resell the Rights

Rembrandt Films

Did you like The Hobbit? No, not that one. The original one. No, not that original one -- the original original one! Oh, you didn't know about the original original? Figures. You're not a true Hobbit fan, otherwise you would have known about this recently rediscovered 1966 Hobbit animation that looks like papier-mache having a nightmare and clocks in at just under 12 minutes.

Rembrandt Films
"Eh, I could wipe my ass with every copy of the book and I would still be the 'good' Adolf."

It's not exactly a faithful adaptation. For example, there's a new main character called Princess Mika whom Bilbo the hobbit eventually marries, the Trolls are now called Groans and turn into trees, Gollum is furry and well-fed, the dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield is now a human general whose entire group consists of one dude who is dressed like a sailor for reasons that are never explained, and Smaug the badass dragon is now a pansy named Slag that Bilbo and his friends straight up murder with a giant crossbow while he sleeps.

Rembrandt Films
"You just got tea-bagginsed, bitch."

How did this happen? Well, William Snyder bought the cinematic rights to The Hobbit on the cheap back when everyone thought Middle-Earth was somewhere along the equator. Snyder intended to make a full-length Hobbit movie, but when Tolkien-mania hit it big in the '60s, he realized it would be way easier to sell the rights for a profit. There was only one problem: The contract said the rights would expire if he didn't produce a "full-color motion picture version" by June 30, 1966. However, the contract didn't specify length, release, faithfulness, or overall quality. Just "moving" and "with colors."

And boy howdy, did Snyder know a guy who could make colors move for a few minutes!

Gene Deitch was the warm body with functional hands that Snyder ended up going with, but don't be too hard on the guy: He only had a month to pull it off.

Rembrandt Films
He had time to spare.

The final product was shown to a handful of people they literally grabbed off the street in New York, since contractually they needed at least one screening to meet the requirements. But it was all worthwhile: Snyder did eventually make $100,000 selling the rights, an amount that Peter Jackson describes as "cute."


Scott Elizabeth Baird thinks Highlander 2 is the best one. Disagree? Argue with him here and here.

Related Reading: You'll be shocked at the everyday things that are trademarked. Like the word "yup." And did you know that the man who sponsored the oppressive Internet-crippling SOPA bill stole copyrighted images for his website? If you're curious about all the ways big companies are screwing you over via copyright law, click away, friends.

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