As Will Shetterly points out, the same giant comics companies that want a government patent to collect rent on the English word “superhero” have throughout their history shown no reluctance to make extensive use of material from the public domain. Like ruling dynasties descended from pirates and outlaws, the media companies that built their fortunes on freely-available culture now want to charge us for it.
Marvel and DC’s behavior differs from the rest of Big Media only in its haplessly transparent crudity, par for the course in the world of comics, a field I once described as “combining the ethics of Hollywood, the social graces of science fiction fandom, and the Big Money of book publishing.” The central desire of most media companies today is to enclose as much of the cultural commons as possible, to replace normal operations of culture (like, you know, loaning a book to a friend) with transactions for which they can charge a fee.
I’ve long resisted the idea that the modern limitated-liability corporation, considered as an “individual” (as it is, under American law) is in fact—no matter how good and kind the people inside it—a sociopath. But the older I get and the more I see, the more I suspect that’s essentially the case.