Pronto Presents: Lawyer Dave Kozlowski
By David Rondinelli
Pronto Comics welcomes Dave Kozlowski as their new legal representative. Kozlowski is a Bridgeport, CT, native who, in addition to his law background, balances being a fan and a sports enthusiast by playing baseball, football—and Nintendo.
After graduating from Western Connecticut State University with a history degree, Dave bounced around the country working for a fraternity, waiting tables, and selling ad space in college sports program books. Along the way, he attended St. John’s University School of Law, then went on to clerk for a federal judge, worked in Manhattan at a national law firm, and recently opened his own law practice representing businesses and entrepreneurs.
With an already full background, it doesn’t end there for Kozlowski, as he is also a fiction writer.
For many creators, the business side of their art can be unfamiliar territory, but is nonetheless important. Kozlowski’s insights into the legal side of creating comics are a priceless tool that all up-and-coming creators should take to heart.
Pronto Presents: Tell us a bit about how you found out about Pronto and how you got involved.
Dave Kozlowski: A friend from law school introduced me to the Pronto EIC [Dominic Sparano] after learning that Pronto needed some legal advice. I gladly took the engagement (pro bono), and have been working with Pronto ever since.
PP: What do you enjoy most about comic books?
DK: I love the worlds of DC and Marvel and the idea that all the characters coexist. Like so many people, I love a good crossover. In general, what I love about comics themselves is the writing. A well-written comic tells a story that is enhanced by the artwork, but isn’t simply a vehicle for the artwork. If it’s a story I can get lost in, and the art supports the story, I’m all-in.
PP: With your legal background, what is some advice you can offer creators who may not be as familiar with the business side of comics?
DK: Creators tend to be, by nature, less concerned with the business aspects of their craft. Most have, for example, never worked in a position of responsibility in an office setting. As a result, they misunderstand the importance of the business decisions being made behind the scenes. Deadlines might seem arbitrary at first blush, but are vitally important for companies whose missed deadlines lose readers, cost advertisers, upset shop owners, and cause a whole host of other problems.
PP: Many creators are afraid of having their work stolen or copied, what are some legal ways to put some their minds at ease?
DK: Assuming the creator is the owner (e.g., the work is not done as work-for-hire), the creator generally owns a copyright in the work (the art, the text, coloring, lettering) as soon as it is expressed in tangible form (written/drawn). However, unless the copyright is registered, the creator’s rights will be severely limited. If someone is using a creator’s copyrighted work without authorization, a creator may be able to obtain an injunction (a court order restricting the violator from using the copyright), but cannot sue or recover damages on an unregistered copyright. Registration is about $45 and in many instances doesn’t need a lawyer. However, I would caution every creator to consider consulting with a lawyer when considering these issues. Don’t balk at the cost—don’t be penny-wise but pound-foolish.
PP: Are there websites or places of reference that creators can go to learn more about how to protect their work?
DK: Google. There are many sites (NOLO, RocketLawyer, LegalZoom, law firm blogs, etc.) that provide a lot of good, reliable info. However, none should be seen as a replacement for a good attorney.
PP: What do you feel makes for good business-building if you are a small business, or trying to build a business around a hobby or interest, like many creators are trying to do?
DK: Successful small businesses almost always have a good team. Being supported by an accounting person, a lawyer, and some business people is invaluable. People should be aware of the many resources out there—SBA, SCORE, and a ton of other small/local business organizations give free advice and often have mentorship programs. I urge every small business owner to take advantage. One thing that’s also extremely important for a creator as a business is developing a personal brand. I won’t get into it here, but anyone interested should explore and read up on branding. Branding is the key. You know, apart from talent, which is most important.
PP: What are some of the comics you’re currently reading?
DK: I’ve been hitting some classics lately—lots of older Batman titles. I was a Valiant/Marvel kid growing up and ignored DC for a long time. Now I’m making up for that. I go through phases where I’ll binge an entire genre.
PP: Do you remember the character or title you first read growing up that got you into comics? What was it about that book that captivated you?
DK: I was already into comics by this time, but the first comic that affected me in any way beyond amusement was Neil Gaiman’s Death: the High Cost of Living—mind-blowing. I’m still a huge fan of Gaiman. I was also a fan of Sleepwalker, Archer & Armstrong, and Cloak and Dagger. I’d love to resurrect the Cloak and Dagger title.
PP: How would you like to see the comic industry change or grow?
DK: I am worried about the health of the industry in light of what I see as an inevitable collapse of the popular properties under their own weight. The MCU, the DCU, and DCTVU—The Walking Dead, iZombie, and a dozen other comic properties are on TV or in the movies at any moment. At some point, the shoe drops and people stop caring about comic properties. When that happens, the already struggling comic “book” industry will face very hard times. I wish the big comic companies would do more to encourage readership of their books. Instead of a comic book apocalypse when the movies ultimately crash, DC and Marvel could be building readership so when the movies stop being a draw, the people who love the movies would turn to the books for lack of another outlet, thereby increasing readership. I think Star Wars as a property has done exactly this. Whet the appetite with The Force Awakens, bill the comics as part of the new Expanded Universe, then let the fanboys (and fangirls) spend a lot of money to fill in the gaps of the seven movies.
PP: What are some other projects and events that you have coming up?
DK: I make a living as a lawyer, and nobody reading this cares that I’ll be speaking at such-and-such event about some legal topic. But anyone interested in reading some of my fiction can find it collected at djkozlowski.weebly.com or can find me (under my oh-so-clever pseudonym, DJ Kozlowski) on Facebook at facebook.com/DJWrites.