Robot 6

Ex-Sonic writer claims rights to his stories, character

Julie-Su, one of the characters claimed by Penders

Julie-Su, one of the characters claimed by Penders

Here’s an odd little story that has been brewing over the past couple of days: Ken Penders, who wrote the Sonic the Hedgehog series for Archie Comics for over a decade, is claiming he owns the rights to the stories he wrote and the side characters he created. Not surprisingly, Archie Comics is disputing the claim.

A few days ago, Penders posted this claim on his website:

As of April 21, 2010, the U.S. Copyright Office finally began certifying my copyright claims (which I initially filed beginning back in January 2009) on every single story I ever wrote, penciled or both for Archie Comics. As a result, I am now officially recognized by the U.S. Government as the owner of every single SONIC and KNUCKLES story I ever created (well, almost every one right now, but it will be “all” shortly, as soon as the Copyright Office finishes with the last few claims. But I digress…).

What does this mean?

That means anyone seeking to use my characters, concepts and stories that were published in the pages of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, various SONIC 48-page specials, various issues of SONIC SUPER SPECIALS, the PRINCESS SALLY mini-series, the SONIC’S FRIENDLY NEMESIS KNUCKLES mini-series, KNUCKLES THE DARK LEGION and the KNUCKLES THE ECHIDNA series, must first contact me for permission and to make arrangements for the use of this material.

This, of course, would be bad news for the Archie people. Penders came on board with Sonic #11, and is claiming copyright on stories from that issue through issue #135, running from 1993 through 2006, when he left the series. He claims that not only that material (which Archie has already reprinted in digest form) but also any material derived from it, such as stories that follow his storylines or include characters he invented, belongs to him, and Archie Comics cannot use any of it without his permission. Penders lays this out quite clearly:

Every story since issue #160 that features my characters and concepts is essentially unauthorized, as I did not grant Archie Comics the right to use my creations for their benefit without compensation to me.

I asked Mike Pellerito of Archie Comics for a response, and he set me this e-mail:

We have been in contact with our legal team and the claims by Ken Penders are completly false. We will be responding through proper legal channels.

Hershey

Hershey

Tristan Oliver of the Sonic news site TSSZ News did a little investigative reporting, apparently reading through all Penders’s copyright claims (which are archived here; enter “Penders Ken” to get the full list). Most of the claims are for just the text of a story, or text and “2-dimensional artwork,” which presumably means thumbnails. It looks like Penders did claim ownership of some characters, but the U.S. Copyright Office has not granted it, instead putting this notation in the file:

Regarding author information and new material included: Characters as such not registrable; registration based on deposited authorship describing, depicting, or embodying the characters. Authority Compendium II 202.02(l).

That suggests the Copyright Office needs more information before granting the claim. Oliver concludes that Penders has a potential claim for exactly one character, Hershey.

Penders says he took the action when he learned that Sega was using characters and concepts he created in the video game Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. He says he did not sign away the rights for his creations to be used in other media. While Penders says he is working on his own original stories using the characters he created, it’s hard to imagine how he could pull that off without bringing in Sonic or other copyrighted story elements.

He also puts retailers and distributors on notice:

At this time, anyone distributing and selling copies of SONIC ARCHIVES Nos. 3 through 13, SONIC SELECT Nos. 1 and 2, as well as any of the latest issues of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG and SONIC UNIVERSE that feature my characters in any way, shape or form will be asked to cease and desist or else risk facing the consequences. This includes any version of said material, which also includes my original works, which sees release in any format beyond the original published comic books, including but not limited to digital downloads. (Yes, the iTunes and iPhones stores distributing my stories are currently infringing my copyrights, and are in the process of being made aware of this infringement.)

Johanna Draper Carlson, from whom I first heard about this story, has an excellent post putting the whole thing into context; Pender had criticized the work of his successor, Ian Flynn. She also notes a great deal of fan outrage on the Sonic bulletin boards. (What, you didn’t know there were Sonic bulletin boards? Welcome to the Internet, my friend.)

(Images of Julie-Su and Hershey are from the Mobius Encyclopedia.)

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Comments

11 Comments

“Penders says he took the action when he learned that Sega was using characters and concepts he created in the video game Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.”

Actually while not exactly the same Bioware’s DS game did create a female echidna character named Shade that was very similar to Julie-Su from the Knuckles the echidna comic. Along with a group of technological echidnas called the Nocturnus Tribe which is reminiscent of the technology based echidnas known as the Dark Legion. (Which like Julie-Su first appeared in the Knuckles comic book from the late 90′s.)

The Ugly American

July 13, 2010 at 10:51 am

Wait. Wait. Hold up.

They named the skunk character, who is black, Hershey?

Wow. That takes some serious cojones.

I’m sure that Archie and also Sega will deal with this accordingly. I’m guessing whatever work for hire contract he signed in combination with licensing agreements between Sega and Archie cover ownership of characters etc. I can’t see there being such a complete legal blunder on Sega and Archie that would hold up in court for him. Again it will be a wait and see but I can’t imagine how he will pull it off.

Hersey isn’t a skunk. She’s a cat.

Ken has claims to Hershey, that’s for sure. She is his baby that caused all the trouble in the Endgame series. I’ll just put in what I posted on the TSSZ News site.

I too, am disappointed in this. But then I’m thinking: ‘Hey, if Penders wants all his ideas, I say give it to him! Pull the LARGEST RET-CON IN COMIC HISTORY. Reboot the comic, maybe start from #10, just before he arrived on the scene, and follow through SegaSonic stuff as Archie’s discression. ( Because some of their stuff is questionable) It should be easy enough to avoid Pender’s ideas, and grab up the SatAMSonic stuff as well. I think this is a GREAT opportunity to get the old fans back that stopped reading, and for Ian to really shine with what he wanted to do with the series. Penders will end up as ‘just one of those eccentric fanfic writers’.

A little snarky? Yeah, I don’t like how things went, and I’m one of the few who knew Ian when he was around the various Sonic themed areas on the net. He’s making the comic interesting again, but I’d love to see what he would have done from the beginning.

Gorgonzola Bits

July 13, 2010 at 1:21 pm

No, Hershey isn’t a Skunk. She did get married to one, though, hence why she’s now Hershey St John.

Ken named Hershey after his son’s cat; therefore, if he so much as doodled her on a birthday card before putting her in a Sonic comic, he can claim ownership. (Of course, this brings up the Wolfman/Blade standard — is the Hershey who appeared in the comic clearly the same character as the version he used previously?)

Other than that? I’m a big supporter of creators’ rights, but I think Ken’s tilting at windmills here. It’s rather hard to believe that his contract didn’t sign over the rights to all his work and characters; Archie and Sega are not exactly known for a liberal approach to authorship.

If I’m reading this right, he’s copyrighting his stories as visual works of art, which isn’t the same thing as getting the stories certified.
He’s going to lose in court trying that tactic.
If he’s upset because Sega is using his ideas in their games w/ out increased compensation, and this is some sort of hail-mary barganing tool, I guess I can understand it.
He probably never thought that would happen, but you can be certain in was in the contract.

If one wants to own the stories and characters they create, work a project up from scratch. Trying to establish ownership of franchise characters as a work-for-hire creator is oxymoronic.

I understand that everyone wants a piece when they see money being made in a way that they didn’t expect from things they created, but you know what? If you write a Star Wars comic, your character isn’t your character. It’s George Lucas’ character. Uncle Scrooge belongs to Walt, not to Carl. If that’s not something you can live with, DON’T DO FRANCHISE COMICS. It’s as simple as that.

I think he’s probably angling for a settlement.

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