Free Universe Characters



There are bound to be some issues on your mind about using characters and concepts from the Free Universe.  We are going to assume that you have done some research and have a basic understanding of copyright law.  With that, hopefully some of the answers to these questions is helpful.

1.  Why would you want to use pre-existing characters when you could simply make up your own original characters, which you would have exclusive control over? 

2.  If these characters are free for anyone to use, why don’t the big comic companies use them?

3.  Are you really certain that I can legally use the characters and settings listed on the Free Universe site?

4.  Can I create a sequel to a story that someone else wrote, if it featured a public domain character?

5.  What's up with the crazy new character designs in your profile images? Why don't you use public domain images, or draw the characters exactly the way they looked in the public domain source material?

6.  If this site is all about sharing IPs, then WHY is there a disclaimer at the bottom of the page saying I can't redistribute images without permission?

7.  Can I contribute MY character or idea to this site?  How?

8.  Are there rules about using these characters and ideas? Is there some kind of code of conduct?


Q:  Why would you want to use pre-existing characters when you could simply make up your own original characters, which you would have exclusive control over? 

A:  Good point.  Well, there are a number of advantages to using elements of a pre-existing universe.

1.  Public recognition.  By using pre-existing characters and stories that have been developed and promoted by others, your work may acquire a built in fan base.  People are more likely to be interested in characters and stories that they are already familiar with, than characters and stories which are completely untested.  The more these characters and stories are used, the wider the public's recognition of them will be, and the more profitable they will be.  Having some control over a popular character can also be creatively satisfying.  Consider the case of Dracula and King Aurthur.  These are old, public domain characters, and most everyone knows their stories.  Yet, the public still buys books, watches TV shows, and flocks to movies about these old characters.  They know that each artist that handles them may have an interesting new take on how to interpret them and their story.  They know that a new artist may add new depths to the character, or illustrate the story with vivid new imagery, or find ways to make the story funnier, more chilling, more dramatic, or more exciting.  Most stories have been done to death.  What really interests people is how they are told.  Try telling the story of a character from the "Free universe" and you may find unique ways to express your own vision, that will excite existing fans of that character.

2.  Filling in the gaps.  You may choose to incorporate elements of the "Free Universe" into your own fictional universe, simply to fill in the gaps.  The Free Universe can be used as a somewhat generic backdrop for Superhero and Science Fiction tales.  The wide array of superheroes can be used as minor characters (and even expendable characters) in a new comic that focuses on your own original characters.  Or use an alien or two from the Free Universe, as a background character in your spaceport scene.  You can take or leave any element of the Free Universe, to enrich the variety of elements in your own fictional universe.

3.  A good starting point.  The established elements of characters in the Free Universe may immediately inspire new story ideas and twists, whether they are used as a main character or as a supporting character.  There is something very useful about really knowing who a character is, before the story even begins.  Besides, it's a lot of fun, putting your own spin on an existing character.

4.  Legacy.  By incorporating characters from the Free Universe into your own universe, you are indirectly suggesting there may be a relationship between your universe, and the universe of other creators who also incorporate elements of the Free Universe.  This may give your own characters a sense of kinship, not only with the characters of the Free Universe, but with many other great characters from other great creators.  If you ask me, that's pretty cool.


Q:  If these characters are free for anyone to use, why don’t the big comic companies use them?

A:  Almost every major entertainment company, including Disney, Marvel, DC and the various movie studios, actually does mine the vaults of public domain characters on a pretty regular basis.  However, many companies, especially comic book companies, shy away from using many of the more recently created characters listed on the Free Universe, for a number of reasons.

1.  Liability.  Many of the comic characters on the free universe are only in the public domain due to technicalities in copyright law.  Copyright laws frequently change.  Recently, the family of one of the men who created Superman, managed to convince a court, that they deserved a share of the rights over the popular character.  If the rights to Superman can be wrested from a media mogul like DC Comics and Warner Brothers Entertainment, then it is possible that rights to other characters might be wrested from the public domain.  To date, no cases have been brought forward over the rights to the characters on the Free Universe site, but that is most likely because none of them have generated a significant amount of revenue, like Superman did.  Additionally, it is highly unlikely that a major comic company would use a character that is under copyright, but licensed to the general public, as it would be time consuming for them to verify the license in writing, when they could just as easily create their own ripoff character.

2.  Exclusivity.  Most comic companies are not interested in public domain characters, for the simple fact that they have exclusive rights over characters that are far more popular than characters that have fallen into public domain.  Furhtermore, comic companies generate a significant amount of revenue by licensing their exclusive characters for products such as movies, video-games, t-shirts and toys.  Why would a comic company spend time developing a Green Lama or Black Terror comic, when anyone can make movies or action figures of those characters, without paying the comic company a cent.



Q:  Are you really certain that I can legally use the characters and settings listed on the Free Universe site?

A:  Absolutely not.  It should be understood that the Free Universe does not take any responsibility for the actions of creators who use the resources on this site.  Nobody involved with this site is qualified to provide legal council, and even if they were, the law may change, and is subject to interpretation by a judge.  We do not and can not certify or guarantee that you may legally use the characters or settings on this site. 

That said, we do believe, to the best of our knowledge, that the characters on this site are either in the public domain, or that free public license has been granted for their use.  Before using any character on this site, you may wish to carefully research the character’s publication history and the trademark and copyright laws in your region.  Please feel free to ask questions on our boards to assist in your research efforts, but keep in mind, we take no responsibility and make no guarantee that any information you receive on this site, or on our boards is accurate or trustworthy.  If anyone discovers inaccurate information on this site, or believes that a particular character should not be on this site, please contact us immediately, and give us a summary of your evidence.  We will not be bullied by corporations with fraudulent claims, or discouraged by pessimists, but we will consider a reasonable argument with supporting documentation. 

This site is intended as a collection point for information on characters which seem to have passed into the public domain or have been granted release to the public by the copyright holder.  It is possible, though rare, for the rights of works in the public domain to be reacquired by an old copyright holder, if new evidence surfaces demonstrating a loophole in the law.  It is also impossible for this site to absolutely prove that works released under a free license, were actually released by their copyright holder.  If you wish to release a character that you own onto this site, please try to give us as much evidence as possible that you do, in fact, own the copyright.

For characters that have entered the public domain, it is important to understand that public domain only means that nobody owns the exclusive rights to the original source material (or rather, everyone owns the original source material).  Modern works derived from public domain source materials are protected by new copyrights, even though the source material is not.  In other words, you can make works derived from the book Dracula, but you may not use elements that are specifically derived from the movie Dracula 2000.  Characters that are not protected by copyright may also be protected by trademark.  If they are, you may not use the character’s name in the title of a work, or in advertising related to your work.  Many of the characters on this site have names that have been trademarked by major comic book companies, so be careful about how you use them.



Q:  Can I create a sequel to a story that someone else wrote, if it featured a public domain character?

A:  No!  If I write a story about Captain Battle, where he is revealed to have a cousin named Amanda, and he travels back in time and marries Cleopatra, you can not use the Amanda character at all, and you can not write a story about the Captain's adventures in ancient Egypt with Cleopatra, because none of that has anything to do with the public domain version of Captain Battle.  If you really want to continue the story from where I left off, then you will need my permission, preferably expressed with written consent, or you will be guilty of creating a work derivative of my own, which is copyright infringement.

Q: But, you can't copyright a story about a public domain character, right?

WRONG! Nobody has the ability to claim exclusive rights over the original source material that constitutes the original character, but new stories about the character and unique new ideas about the character can be copyrighted..  Think of a public domain character like an apple. You can depict the same apple in at least a million different ways. You can paint it realistically or draw it as a purple square, with crayon. Any unique ideas you use to depict the apple, belong to you. Nobody else can use those ideas unless you give them permission to do so. If you manage to come up with a unique story about the apple, that is a unique idea that you own.

Q: Why do you keep talking about apples?

The concept and appearance of an apple is in the public domain in a very secure way.

Q:  Is it safe to assume that people who share their work on The Free Universe and in the forums would grant me permission to create derivative works?

A:  No, do not assume anything.  Assumptions are not legally binding.  Hopefully, the forums will cultivate a community of artists who are willing to share ideas, and build off of each other to create cohesive continuities.  However, nobody on the boards is obligated to participate in such efforts, and an artist's willingness to show their work should not ever be assumed as a willingness to share it.  Always ask permission.  If someone asks you for permission to create work derivative of your own, you should consider it an honor, even if you choose not to grant permission.



Q: What's up with the crazy new character designs in your profile images? Why don't you use public domain images, or draw the characters exactly the way they looked in the public domain source material?

Well, let's be real. Some of the old Golden Age character designs are a little silly and dated. While I have attempted to stay fairly true to the original costume designs, there was room for improvement with some characters. For example, Silver Streak never wore a silver costume in the Golden Age. Daredevil's belt, as it was drawn (a stiff metal ring) looked uncomfortable and difficult to take off, since it had no buckle. Captain Battle sometimes (inexplicably) wore a cape OVER his jetpack. Not only is it odd looking, but can you say "unnecessary fire hazard?" You also have to remember that the Golden Age came before the civil rights movement, so almost all of the superheroes of that age are blond, patriotic white guys in red, white and blue costumes. With some characters, such as Amazing Man, who was raised in China by Tibetan monks, there is an opportunity to add a little diversity to the ranks. Making Amazing Man an ethnically Chinese hero doesn't substantially change anything about the character, and actually seems pretty logical and consistent with his story. While I was at it, I tried to make his costume look a little more like battle armor, and a little less like something a male stripper might wear. For the most part, I think my little tweaks, help to make the characters look a little cooler.  I also wanted to give viewers bright new images to work off of, which clearly demonstrate all the details of a character's appearance, with a very standard pose.

Q: What if I prefer the Golden Age character design? Why should I use your design?

  If you prefer the more ridiculous looking costume variations of the Golden Age, you are free to use any of them, and there are plenty of references on the net for those Golden Age costumes. My intention in redesigning the characters is to give you more options. If a big comic book company came in and redesigned these characters, you would NOT be allowed to use their redesigns, even if the redesign involved an intuitive idea like giving Silver Streak a silver costume. If THEY created that design first, they would own the copyright to the ideas of the redesign. I have attempted to "buy" some IP "real estate" to secure it for the public domain. By coming up with ideas first, I own them and can dedicate them to the public domain as I see fit.

Q: Where are you getting all this character data, that I can't find on other sites?

  The majority of the data comes from reading the comics, and compiling information from those stories. But, you caught me. In some cases, I am just filling in the gaps with stuff I made up. I'm a good writer, and any information that shows up in the profiles is to be considered public domain. The information I've made up is respectful and considerate of the source, and never trumps the source. However, some of the characters needed to be fleshed out because they have big gaping holes in their background. Some of them have no origin at all, or the stories from the comics are completely convoluted. I had to do some work to make sense of Silver Streak's story. In the case of "Daredevil," he had two origins, so I did my best to combine the two, so that they were both true. In the case of "The Claw" who also had two origins, I just had to pick one (combing them would just be ridiculous). As with the rest of the profile, you are free to take my ideas as freely licensed cannon, or use just the tidbits from the comics, or make up all new stuff yourself.



Q: If this site is all about sharing IPs, then WHY is there a disclaimer at the bottom of the page saying I can't redistribute images without permission?

All IDEAS on this site are either in the public domain or are freely licensed, but that doesn't mean all IMAGES on this site are public domain. Artists still own the art they create, even if the subject matter is in the public domain. If I draw a picture of an apple, anyone else can draw a picture of the same apple, but each picture belongs to the artist who drew it. The disclaimer at the bottom of the site, is necessary for the survival of this website. My artwork constitutes a unique draw to this website. If anyone could use my art on their site, people could scatter my work across other websites, and nobody would visit my site. If nobody visited this website, I would have no reason to continue my work on it. Meaning, you would not get any more of my art or any more of the information I collect. As long as this site draws visitors, I have reason to maintain it for you, and to occasionally give you some new material to work with.



Q: Can I contribute MY character or idea to this site?

  If you are willing to permanently dedicate your character to the public domain, then yes, we would love to add it to this site! I would very much like to see people dedicate their characters and ideas to the public domain, so that they can be used to expand this site. Hopefully, the "Free Universe" will continue to expand with creative new ideas. However, it is important to note that if you do plan to contribute a character or idea, they will no longer belong to just you. They will belong to everyone.

Q: How do I contribute my character to this site?

There is a little bit of a process here, because we need to have some evidence that you understand what you are doing, and that you are not going to try to sue somebody later, because they used "your" character in a story that you don't approve of.  It is not recommended that you dedicate "beloved" characters to the public domain, because there is a good chance you won't like what some people will do with that character.  Some creators may even choose to make the character the subject of humiliating "comedy" or put them in adult situations.  Some creators may twist the original idea completely.  They are not required to contact you or credit you (though, it is considered a courtesy). Keeping that in mind, if you wish to proceed, then here is the process:

1. If you want your character to have a profile on this site, then I will need a profile image. I would prefer that you give me a quality full-body image of your character, in a standing pose (preferably the same basic pose as the other characters on this site). The image of the character should be at least as big (preferably bigger) than the profile images you see on this site. It is also important that the character be on a simple background (preferably white). I will then take your character and scale him on the standard profile grid background.

I can NOT accept images that are created on a copyrighted template of any kind. Do not send me images from any kind of "hero maker" program. You must be the sole copyright owner of both the character AND all details of the image you submit.

I do not have time to redraw every character submitted to this site. I will only consider doing so, if it is an established character in print or online comics (or if it's just unbelievably awesome and inspiring). Even then, I'm not promising I would do that. Besides time constraints, I'm really not the best artist in the world anyway.

2. You will need to post the image of your character, and an accompanying character description in our forums. Try to flesh out your character, and be specific in your description, because I don't want to make up data for a half-baked idea.  Above the character description, you must paste the following paragraph into your post, and fill out the information as necessary

I, [your full name] hereby declare that I am the sole creator and exclusive copyright owner of the fictional character, [character name]. I hereby relinquish exclusive rights to the [character name] character, so that it may be freely used by other creators, in any capacity, without my consent or approval. The character of [character name] is to be considered a permanent resident of the public domain. This applies to the character's visual design, as posted on the Free Universe forums and the following description:

[place description here]

3. You must also send me an email, with no attachments, notifying me of your desire to dedicate your character to the public domain. I will not even look at your character, unless you paste the same pledge and character description from the forum into the body of your email.  This will be kept for my records.


Q: Are there rules about using these characters and ideas? Is there some kind of code of conduct?

A: Technically, there are no hard rules for using the characters and ideas presented on the Free Universe site. Most of these ideas are legally in the public domain, and that means you own these characters as much as anyone else does. Furthermore, we really can't set rules and regulations on how you use characters which are freely licensed. If there were any enforced stipulations at all, then that would suggest that you still need the permission of the original creators, and thus, our universe would not be free.

However, if you use the resources on this site, we do ask that you use them respectfully. If you were to contribute to ruining the public image of these characters, you would be doing everyone a great disservice. We will not endorse works that we feel are inappropriate or disrespectful. Our "Code of Conduct" asks that you consider the following VOLUNTARY stipulations:

1. Humor, parodies and satires are wonderful and fully encouraged, but please do not depict these character in crude or degrading ways. If it happens often enough, it can sully a character's image, and that is against our mission here.

2. You are not required to credit the creator of any given character, but it is a nice gesture. However, if your work is in any way controversial, you may want to contact the creator before putting their name in the credits of your work, to make sure they are okay with it.

Also, please make sure that your works do not violate the content rules of any site you post them on. If anyone sees works posted that violate such rules, I encourage you to contact administrators and get those displays shut down (for everyone's good).

The last thing I would ask, is that you have fun with these characters and use them in fantastic new creative ways. Please enjoy your stay in the Free Universe!


Copyright © 2011 Jason J. Stevenson.  Character bios and character designs are to be considered in the public domain.
However, original artwork is under copyright.  Please do not redistribute without consent.  Thank you.