A cheaply and quickly produced work, not intended to be shown to the masses and disseminated only to the minimum extent required to fulfill some non-artistic obligation like claiming a trademark.

The term originated in UsefulNotes/TheGoldenAgeOfComicBooks, when there was a big rush to copyright as many characters and titles as possible, but the production time available was measured in days or hours, far too short to put out a real comic. The solution? Create a simple mock comic, often just a cover and some unrelated filler made up of garbage sheets, and submit it to the copyright office. The term itself comes from the fact that these comics often weren't actually distributed to newsstands, just going straight to the ashcan (period vernacular for trashcan) once their purpose had been served.

Starting in UsefulNotes/TheDarkAgeOfComicBooks, an "ashcan" copy of a comic, often black and white and limited in distribution, would sometimes be distributed as a promotional item. These comics were called "ashcans" for marketing reasons (i.e. to imply rarity and value like the Golden Age versions) but really had little to do with [[UsefulNotes/TheGoldenAgeOfComicBooks Golden Age]] ashcans.

In the wider culture, "ashcan copy" has stuck around to describe any crappy proof-of-sort-of-concept work that exists solely because of the strange intricacies of trademark and licensing law -- especially in the US, where television or movie adaptation contracts often have a "use it or lose it" expiration date by which a license must be exercised to prevent reversion to the original rights holder.

If, by chance, these works ever actually ''do'' see distribution, expect SnarkBait. See also FranchiseZombie for other examples of shameless IP exploitation. Compare with ContractualObligationProject.

[[JustForFun/IThoughtItMeant Do not confuse]] with a somewhat wider use of the term (jocularly with a bit of SelfDeprecation, like miniature comics for promo, mostly freebie), which technically is no longer this trope.



[[folder:Comic Books]]
* The most widely-known example is ''Flash Comics'', which was actually the title of two different ashcans from different companies seeking claim to the title. Creator/DCComics' ''Flash Comics'' combined cover art from ''Adventure Comics'' #41 with pages from ''All-American Comics'' #8; Fawcett's ''Flash Comics'' (also printed under the title ''Thrill Comics'') featured the origin of Captain Thunder, who made his first regular appearance as [[ComicBook/{{Shazam}} Captain Marvel]] in ''Whiz Comics'' #2 (there was no ''Whiz Comics'' #1).
* Creator/DCComics's ''Action Funnies'' ashcan contained pages from ''Detective Comics'' #10 and cover art that would later appear in color on ''Action Comics'' #3.
* Fawcett's ''5-Cent Comics'' and ''Nickel Comics'' ashcans (black-and-white, no cover art) marked the respective debuts of Dan Dare and Scoop Smith, both of whom subsequently appeared in ''Whiz Comics''. ''Nickel Comics'' became a regular series, but without Scoop Smith.
* ''Eerie'' #1 was a hastily assembled digest of horror comic stories with a print run of a few hundred copies, created by publisher James Warren to deny the title to rival publishers Myron Fass and Robert W. Farrell, whose company was named Eerie Publications.
* Following the "DC Implosion" (where DC Comics cancelled a whole bunch of titles all at once) they "published" ''Cancelled Comic Cavalcade'', two 250 page editions of the comics which had been cancelled just to ensure copyright on the stories which had already been written & drawn. Only 35 copies were made, though black-and-white photocopies of the originals exist. The reprint was notable for being the first "appearance" of [[Franchise/JusticeLeagueOfAmerica JLA]] member Comicbook/{{Vixen}}.
* DC Comics, owner of ComicBook/WonderWoman, made a huge mistake at the time of the character's inception: they never thought about making a "Wonder Man". Marvel Comics played a prank on them by doing so first. They didn't take this very seriously: he was a one-time villain who died at the end of the story. But when the rights to this minor character were about to expire (and DC would be able to lay claim to the name), Marvel Comics resurrected the character and gave him a recurring role in the Avengers series, retaining the rights.
* Marvel has pulled the same stealth claim trick more than once: after DC sued Fawcett regarding how close [[ComicBook/{{Shazam}} Captain Marvel]] was to their own Franchise/{{Superman}}, Marvel noticed that the superhero's name was legally up for grabs and created their own [[ComicBook/CaptainMarVell Captain Marvel]] (given the company name, they couldn't be blamed). Then DC bought Fawcett and incorporated the now rebranded ''ComicBook/{{Shazam}}'' into their universe. In order to avoid the trademark falling into disuse and thus becoming available to their biggest competitors, Marvel has had to publish at least one ''Captain Marvel'' title every year or two since, leading to a number of ongoing series, limited series and one-shots featuring a range of characters using the Captain Marvel alias (the original Mar-Vell, many of his sons and clones, and the current incarnation who used to go by Comicbook/MsMarvel).

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* While the Ashcan Copy originated in comics, many contemporary cases involve movie concepts optioned from other media, as such contracts usually include reversion clauses and film development is a notoriously [[DevelopmentHell lengthy and troubled process]].
* Marvel has had huge success with movie adaptations of its superhero characters, including the sprawling, interconnected Franchise/MarvelCinematicUniverse continuity, financed and produced in-house. However, three of the most popular Marvel properties -- ComicBook/SpiderMan, the ComicBook/FantasticFour, and the ComicBook/XMen -- were conspicuous by their absence in the MCU. Marvel sold off the movie rights to their best-known characters to make ends meet during a period of financial troubles in the late 1990s, even though their characters had never yet been successfully adapted to the big screen. In the 2000s, a new approach to development spearheaded by Jerry Calabrese and Avi Arad lead to a string of successful films by outside studios, and eventually to Marvel experimenting with in-house movie production rather than licensing to other studios. Characters like Iron Man and Captain America were considered second- or third-string heroes in the comics world, but Marvel still held their movie rights free and clear, so they made do with what was available and were rewarded with several smash hits. Since then, Marvel has been very interested in permanently reclaiming properties that could be added to the MCU, and their licensees resorted to ashcanning productions in order to hold on to their movie rights:
** The 1994 ''Film/TheFantasticFour'' movie was ashcan fodder extraordinaire. The studio was on the verge of losing the rights forever, so it was made [[NoBudget cheaply]], produced by famed BMovie schlock-meister Creator/RogerCorman, and never got a wide release. It exists only in bootleg copies, some of which have made their way [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QW5rLyzFWJM online]].
** The 2015 movie, infamously dubbed ''[[Film/FantasticFour2015 Fant4stic]]'', didn't fare any better, as it was rushed out to meet yet another deadline for Creator/TwentiethCenturyFox to produce a film (following the underperformance of ''[[Film/FantasticFour2005 Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer]]'') or see the characters revert to Marvel. Fox's main concern was not only the potential lost revenue from (higher quality) future releases but also the fact that it would strengthen one of their direct competitors. This cynical impetus led to a TroubledProduction, faced with ExecutiveMeddling and [[InternetBackdraft an infuriated fanbase]] from without, and director Josh Trank's CreatorBreakdown and multiple {{Special Effect Failure}}s from within. The final result was a significant BoxOfficeBomb and one of the worst-reviewed comic book movies ever made, [[DisownedAdaptation disowned by Marvel itself]] [[CreatorBacklash and badmouthed by the director and many other members of the cast and crew]]. A planned sequel vanished from Fox's release calendar in November of 2015. Many critics suggested Fox could have made more money without even bothering to release a movie, by simply selling the rights back to Marvel Studios or striking a deal to allow reciprocal character appearances with the MCU, like Sony did after the diminishing returns of ''Film/TheAmazingSpiderManSeries''. In 2017, Disney announced a buyout of most of 20th Century Fox's assets likely to complete in late 2018 or early 2019, including the cinematic rights to the Fantastic Four, [[ShaggyDogStory meaning Fox's attempts to keep the rights out of Marvel's hands was all for nothing]].
** Creator/{{Sony}}'s ''Spider-Man'' license was originally doing much better than Fox and the Fantastic Four, and in fact is sometimes credited with kickstarting the current era of superhero movies. However, after Creator/SamRaimi's fourth ''[[Film/SpiderManTrilogy Spider-Man]]'' movie [[TroubledProduction fell apart in the planning stage]], a rebooted origin story called ''Film/TheAmazingSpiderManSeries'' was greenlit with an all-new cast and crew. Critics alleged the project was revived solely to extend Sony's reversion deadline, but the rebooted film was (unexpectedly) a big enough hit to generate talk of a franchise of its own to compete with the Franchise/MarvelCinematicUniverse, with Sony confident that Spider-Man was theirs for the foreseeable future. Even before [[Film/TheAmazingSpiderMan2 the second film]] came out, Sony was hyping up {{spinoff}}s focusing on ComicBook/{{Venom}} and the Script/SinisterSix. However, ''The Amazing Spider-Man 2'' wound up a critical and box office failure, derailing all of Sony's carefully-laid plans to make Peter Parker into a meta-franchise. Sony was scrambling for any viable ideas; at one point, there was talk of a spinoff focused on Aunt May (a rumor that was quickly [[http://www.cinemablend.com/new/What-Sony-Has-Say-About-Spider-Man-Aunt-May-Movie-68174.html quashed by Sony]], but which [[TheTysonZone people had no problem believing]]). After the 2014 Sony email hack revealed that they were considering throwing in the towel and cutting a deal with Marvel Studios, pressure from fans who wanted to see Spidey "return home" led Sony to sign a deal in early 2015 to allow reciprocal character appearances with Marvel Studios, improving their chances of holding onto the license in the long term. Accordingly, Spidey's first solo film, ''Film/SpiderManHomecoming'' was produced by Marvel Studios for Sony, set in the MCU, and quite well received. Despite this, Sony resumed their spinoff plans with ''Film/Venom2018'' and ''Film/SilverAndBlack'', which are (allegedly) intended to kick off their own SharedUniverse separate from the MCU and highly suggest that Sony's primary concern is to retain creative control over the characters' film appearances.
** Of the three major Marvel franchises still held by outside studios, Fox's ''Film/XMenFilmSeries '' has most successfully avoided the need for an ashcan installment. While the quality of the films has been uneven (from the high of ''Film/XMenDaysOfFuturePast'' to the low of ''Film/XMenOriginsWolverine''), their release schedules have been steady, the budgets have all been what one would expect for a major theatrical release, and the latest installment, ''Film/{{Logan}}'', was a massive critical and box office success.
* ''Film/HellraiserRevelations'' was quickly whipped together, the filming taking place over a mere 11 days and the post-production going on for about three weeks, specifically so the Creator/TheWeinsteinCompany could hold onto the rights to the ''Franchise/{{Hellraiser}}'' franchise long enough to get a planned remake off the ground. The result is widely regarded as the worst film in a franchise that has seen its fair share of bad sequels, to the point where Creator/CliveBarker (who wrote and directed the original film) [[https://twitter.com/RealCliveBarker/status/105189711416524800 publicly]] [[DisownedAdaptation disowned it]] and Creator/DougBradley (who played Pinhead in every film prior) refused to have any part in it.
* Creator/MattDamon, in [[http://screenrant.com/matt-damon-interviews-jason-bourne-promised-land/ an interview]] with Screen Rant, stated that ''Film/TheBourneLegacy'' was made entirely because Creator/{{Universal}}'s contract with the Creator/RobertLudlum estate would have expired in 2012 if they didn't make another Bourne film, yet Damon was busy and couldn't reprise the leading role. As such, they cast Creator/JeremyRenner as a new character, Aaron Cross, and made the movie [[InNameOnly without the title character]]. They did eventually make another ''Bourne'' movie with Damon, titled simply ''Film/JasonBourne''.
* ''Film/DudleyDoRight'' and ''Film/TheAdventuresOfRockyAndBullwinkle'' supposedly ended up this way, in part due to Universal wanting to get the films out of DevelopmentHell quickly so that it could keep the film rights for the ''WesternAnimation/RockyAndBullwinkle'' franchise. Both movies bombed at the box office, leaving Universal no other option but to just give up the rights - which, ironically, they would regain after acquiring Creator/DreamWorksAnimation, owners of the characters with the Creator/JayWard estate.
* ''Film/{{Vampirella}}'': A film based on ''ComicBook/{{Vampirella}}'' had been in DevelopmentHell for decades under different companies. Creator/RogerCorman's company had at some point acquired the rights from the previous property owners but ultimately only made the 1996 film because they only had six months left, requiring them to quickly rush something into production. After an incredibly TroubledProduction, the final result was a [[WhatTheHellCastingAgency miscast]], critically panned film that the director Jim Wynorski later [[OldShame regretted making at all]].
* ''My Name Is Modesty'', a 2004 low-budget thriller featuring a young ComicStrip/ModestyBlaise, was made so the production company could hold on to the film rights long enough to get things moving on a proper ''Modesty Blaise'' film. (As of this writing, they still haven't.) It was released direct to DVD, and for something made so quickly and cheaply it isn't actually terrible.
* Before Fox released the aforementioned 2015 version of ''Fantastic Four'', ''Film/DragonballEvolution'' was seen as their biggest example in this department - much like the aforementioned ''[[FanNickName Fan4stic]]'', the main reason for this film's quality was due to Fox pushing it out the door just because the rights were expiring. Although many fans of [[Manga/DragonBall the source material]] who have seen the film can name off a list of inconsistencies with the source material, among critics, it's been trashed for being more akin to a drama you'd find on Creator/TheCW than an action/adventure story - the film attempts to combine the Emperor Pilaf Saga with the King Piccolo Saga[[note]]the former is a very lighthearted affair about tracking down the titular Dragon Balls, and features a large amount of slapstick; the latter is a much more serious arc, and can be seen as a precursor to what the series would be like once Goku became an adult[[/note]], with ''disastrous'' results; Justin Chatwin's performance as Goku (an optimistic, carefree IdiotHero) is an angsty character who is mainly focused with getting the girl (for comparison's sake, Goku thought marriage was ''a type of food'' at the age he was when the events the movie is portraying happened in the manga[[note]]he ''did'' end up marrying Chi-Chi after becoming a teenager...mainly because although he had made the promise not knowing what marriage was, he did intent to keep said promise[[/note]]), and the film is overall seen as a ClicheStorm[[note]]to be fair, most of the elements it has were present in the source material; however, the source material didn't try and do all of them at once[[/note]]. Ironically, the film might end up being one of the best things to happen in the franchise in the long run, since series mangaka Akira Toriyama, who is a notoriously apathetic creator, was appalled by the film, and actively became involved in the production of ''Anime/DragonBallZBattleOfGods'' - something he likely wouldn't have done had he not seen how disastrous the end result of letting other people handle his work without involving him was[[note]]while the movie would've happened regardless, the script was a much DarkerAndEdgier version of the final product, portraying [[BigBad Beerus]] as a much more villainous character[[/note]]. His involvement eventually led to another film, ''[[Anime/DragonBallZResurrectionF Resurrection 'F']]'', and a new TV series, ''Anime/DragonBallSuper'' - in other words, the film made him ''care about his work''. While fans don't have to like the movie, maybe they should be a little grateful to the film.
* The little-known fourth ''Film/{{Porkys}}'' film, ''Pimpin' Pee Wee'' was produced on a very hurried schedule in 2009, purely for the purposes of derailing a remake of the first film that Creator/HowardStern was attempting to mount.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* This trope was parodied in ''Series/ArrestedDevelopment'', where a fictional version of the [=90s=] ''Fantastic Four'' movie is stated to be one of several movies made by Imagine Entertainment ([[SelfDeprecation the studio that makes the show]]), with the "crappy production" feature of the Ashcan Copy turned UpToEleven: Ron Howard was told by a drunk lawyer at the company Christmas party that Imagine's license on ''Fantastic Four'' would expire unless a film was made within the next six days. They immediately cast the film with the bartenders from the party, then hired the same bartenders to work the film's wrap party five days later.
* On February 9th, 2015 (at 1:30 AM!), ''Winter Dragon'', a 30-minute adaptation of part of ''The Eye of the World'' (the first volume of Robert Jordan's ''[[Literature/TheWheelOfTime Wheel of Time]]'' series) appeared on [[Creator/{{Fox}} FXX]]. [[labelnote:note]]Which is FX's ''comedy'' spin-off channel[[/labelnote]] What keeps it from being just another OneEpisodeWonder are the circumstances of its production. [[https://twitter.com/Sedavision According to the director's tweets]], [[ChristmasRushed filming began on January 20th and post-production was completed on February 4th]]. The TV rights to the ''Wheel of Time'' series were set to revert from Red Eagle Entertainment (who has held them since the mid-2000s) to The Bandersnatch Group (which is owned by the Robert Jordan estate) on February 11th. Needless to say, [[http://www.tor.com/blogs/2015/02/wheel-of-time-pilot-harriet-statement Jordan's widow was not pleased]].
* Creator/WarnerBros produced a TV pilot called ''Black Bart'' based on ''Film/BlazingSaddles'' just to retain the sequel rights to that film. Creator/MelBrooks explained that he opposed the studio's desire for sequels and included a clause in his contract that all sequel and spinoff rights would revert to him unless Warner Bros. made a movie or TV show based on the film within six months of theatrical release. Brooks knew that the studio couldn't produce a second movie in that time frame, and that network TV would never be able to get a TV show based on ''Blazing Saddles'' [[GettingCrapPastTheRadar past the broadcast censors]]. However, Warner Bros. realized that there was a loophole in the contract: to retain the rights, they only had to ''make'' a spinoff -- there was no requirement to actually ''air'' it. So the studio secretly produced a TV pilot with CBS (a 24-minute synopsis of the movie with Louis Gossett Jr. as Bart and language that the network would never allow on air) and put it away for safekeeping. Several years later, they asked Brooks to make a sequel, and when he refused on the grounds that they no longer held the rights, the execs brought Brooks onto the CBS lot and screened the pilot for him to prove their point -- although the sequel project died on its merits some time later. The ''Black Bart'' pilot only ever saw the light of day as a bonus feature on the ''Blazing Saddles'' DVD release.
* In 2010, Creator/TurnerClassicMovies quietly aired [[http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article.html?id=484547%7C488308 a bizarre special]] in which Leonard Matlin interviewed Creator/WarrenBeatty in character as ComicStrip/DickTracy. This special was made solely so that Beatty could extend the rights he held to make a second ''Film/DickTracy'' film.

* The 'contractual obligation album'. When an artist wants out of their contract but is required to produce a certain number of albums first, they will often dump the ragtag recordings that didn't make the cut for their other albums (B-sides, demos, live performances, and assorted unreleased content) into a CD case and push it out the door. The appropriately-titled ''AudioPlay/MontyPythonsContractualObligationAlbum'' is a typical example. Sometimes, the artist won't even care enough to release previously-unheard material, and will simply compile a GreatestHitsAlbum to do this.
* Music/BobDylan's ''[[MeaningfulName The Copyright Extension Collection]]'' was an official 4-CDR release by Sony of many unreleased sessions and alternate takes from the early 60s. Much of this music had remained unreleased simply because it was not commercially viable, but the copyright laws in effect when it was made would open it to the public domain unless the studio publicly exercised its copyright within 50 years. The studio did not want to draw much attention to this calculated business decision, so released the album as a limited edition of 100 copies in just a few European markets with little promotion. The set became immensely popular and copies sell for high prices - the music has not been released again. Ironically, its limited availability and official status has encouraged far more downloading than if it had passed unnoticed into the public domain.
* Music/TheHumanLeague's 1981 single "Boys and Girls", which was their last song in the [[EarlyInstallmentWeirdness "Mk. 1"]] dark synthpop style and [[NonIndicativeName not featuring "the girls"]] (who were in school at the time) [[CoversAlwaysLie despite them being pictured on the cover]], was desperately rushed through production to begin clearing their heavy debts to Virgin Records.

* After 5 years, the sponsors of the Pinball/MagicGirl pinball machine were wondering what they would get for their money, and even considering a lawsuit against the creator, given that the last they had seen of the machine was a barely playable prototype at an Expo in 2015. To stave off the lawsuit, in 2017, they all received.. manufactured copies of the same prototype, with all the faults still there, and some additional bugs introduced by expensive parts being missing.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* In a non-Western example, Japan had a law prohibiting arcade cabinets from being distributed without games. Manufacturers obliged by providing very simple games good for little else but testing the monitors and controls. Creator/{{Sega}}'s ''VideoGame/DottoriKun'' and Creator/{{Taito}}'s ''VideoGame/{{Minivader}}'' are typical examples, featuring primitive black-and-white graphics and no sound. Konami's ''VideoGame/MoguraDesse'' is a slightly more sophisticated example; it has color and sound to go with its highly simplistic gameplay.
* In 2007, Atari commissioned a simple flash game produced in just four days in order to maintain trademark on ''VideoGame/StarControl''.
* ''VideoGame/TonyHawksProSkater 5'' has been [[http://www.hardcoregamer.com/2015/10/02/wait-is-tony-hawks-pro-skater-5-an-ashcan-copy/170093/ called]] an Ashcan Copy, given that it was released in [[ObviousBeta a horribly unfinished state]] with {{game breaking bug}}s galore. Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk's long-term contract with Creator/{{Activision}}, signed in 2002, was set to expire at the end of 2015, and so Activision allegedly rushed the game out the door in September of that year as one last cash-grab (and possibly to generate enough renewed interest to put a new deal on the table). The game received harsh negative reviews and Tony Hawk is [[https://twitter.com/tonyhawk/status/968210496007503872 no longer]] [[https://twitter.com/tonyhawk/status/968652696726118400 affiliated with]] Activision though they appear to still retain likeness and naming rights.
* The Spectrum version of ''SQIJ!'' is often considered this. The author wrote it to fulfill his contract with his publisher, The Power House, even though he had no real interest in working for them. The game is horribly slow, has no proper collision detection, and shipped with a game-breaking bug caused by the Caps Lock key being incorrectly enabled.

[[folder:Web Original]]
* This trope is the first point on ''Website/{{Cracked}}'' writer David Christopher Bell's list of [[http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-why-every-damn-movie-sequel-nowadays/ "6 Brilliant Explanations For Why Modern Movies Are So Stupid"]], describing it as "a juggling act of rushed sequels". He mentions several movies made solely to retain franchise rights, including the ''Fantastic Four'', ''Dick Tracy'', ''Bourne Legacy'', and ''Hellraiser: Revelations'' examples listed above.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* The 1966 adaptation of ''Literature/TheHobbit''. Producer Bill Snyder bought the film rights from J.R.R. Tolkien on the cheap, and just before they were set to expire the popularity of Tolkien's ''Literature/LordOfTheRings'' books skyrocketed. Realizing he could make a tidy return on his investment, Snyder set out to get the rights extended long enough to negotiate a resale. However, a film had to be made and released in order for that to happen. With the contract set to expire in one month, he got Gene Deitch to hastily produce a 12-minute film using still drawings, which was then screened in a single Manhattan theater on the day the contract was set to expire. With its conditions fulfilled in the narrowest possible sense, the contract was duly extended and Snyder sold the rights for $100,000 (in 1960s money). In 2012 the film finally resurfaced when Snyder's son [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBnVL1Y2src uploaded it on YouTube]].