Robot 6

Studio JMS sues self-publisher in feud over ‘Sidekick’ character

Sidekick #1, featuring the Red Cowl

Sidekick #1, featuring the Red Cowl

In a preemptive move, Studio JMS has sued a self-publisher who threatened legal action over a character in J. Michael Straczynski’s Sidekick. The dispute centers on the Red Cowl, the former masked mentor of the protagonist in the upcoming series from Joe’s Comics and Image Comics.

Straczynski and Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson received a cease-and-desist notice in late May from an attorney representing Richard A. Hamilton of Dial “C” for Comics, insisting that the Cowl (as he was then called) infringes on his client’s trademark and copyright for a costumed character of the same name in the series Miserable Dastards.

According to the lawsuit, filed late last month in federal court in Los Angeles, despite seeing no similarities between the two characters, Studio JMS changed the name to the Red Cowl in hopes of arriving at an “amicable resolution,” and “for other creative reasons.” It’s when Hamilton’s lawyer was notified of the alteration that the conflict got interesting — or at least extremely prickly.

In a response dated June 14, Hamilton’s counsel Ira Cohen called the name change “patently unsatisfactory,” asking Studios JMS’s attorneys, “Do you honestly and seriously contend that, for example, ‘Red Batman,’ or ‘Red Hornet,’ or ‘Red Lantern,’ as comic book characters, would be countenanced or suffered for a minute? We think not.”

He then took aim at Straczynski directly, noting that in an interview the writer “went as far as to imply the character was always named ‘Red Cowl,’ and that the name was plot/character driven, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to our initial cease and desist letter herein.” Cohen also accused Studio JMS of unlawfully appropriating and copying Hamilton’s trademarked name and copyright images of “a comic book duo.” “In short, virtually the entire Hamiltonian ‘The Cowl’ comic book character package has been knocked off,” he continued, “such that the copying not only is arrogant, but is as transparent as a plastic comic book sleeve.”

The mock-up for Hamilton's The Cowl

The mock-up for Hamilton’s The Cowl

He wasn’t done quite yet, however, as he threatened to make Studio JMS “poster children” for enhanced damages, meaning the court would have the discretion to levy an award of up to three times that of compensatory damages (it’s usually reserved for instances of willful infringement). Cohen demanded that JMS stop any advertising, sales or promotion involving the Red Cowl, recall any infringing goods and hand them over to his client, giving a June 21 deadline for a response.That’s the day Studio JMS filed its lawsuit.

In its complaint, JMS notes that similarly named superheroes — among them, Spider-Man and The Spider, and Swamp Thing and Man-Thing — “have co-existed without confusion for decades,” and argues the only common element between Hamilton’s Cowl and Straczynski’s Red Cowl is a hood or cowl, an article of clothing they share with countless other characters.

In addition to seeking a ruling that the Red Cowl doesn’t infringe upon Hamilton’s rights, JMS asks the court to cancel the defendant’s trademark registration for the Cowl, insisting it was issued improperly due to discrepancies in the filing date and the mark’s first use in commerce. In addition, JMS claims Hamilton improperly submitted a mock-up of The Cowl cover, and not the actual comic book, which apparently was never published or distributed. The plaintiff argues that even if Hamilton did publish a single issue of The Cowl, it doesn’t meet the standards for trademark registration, which require that that the title be used for a series of creative works.

Sidekick #1, by Straczynski and Tom Mandrake, is set for release on Aug. 14.



So he is a copyright troll…

What…some dude who riffs DIAL H FOR HERO with DIAL C FOR COMICS is accusing JMS of ripping off his character because he wears a COWL? The same cowl countless comic book characters have been wearing since 1940-something? And JMS is supposed to be using his amazing power to get into this guy’s head and steal something that’s never been published? What the hell did I just read here? Calling Captain Marvel…wait, no the other Captain Marvel…or Captain America, or Captain Canuck, or Captain Cash, or Captain freedom, or Captain China, or Captain…

Is there any weaker argument than “your Batman-knockoff-whose-name-comes-from-part-of-his-uniform is too similar to my Batman-knockoff-whose-name-comes-from-part-of-his-uniform”?

Just another example of the mistake of mixing business with intellectual property. Who really owns an idea anyway? I advocate Universal Public Domain!

Someone hand this guy an issue of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern and take a picture when his head explodes.

the visual similarities are kind of shocking…looks like one of bleeding cool’s swipe files

If ‘Red Cowl’ is obviously derivative of ‘Cowl’, then Hamilton’s been infringing on Marvel’s ‘Crimson Cowl’ since day one.

“…the visual similarities are kind of shocking…” Like what? The heroes both wear cowls? The cowls aren’t even the same color. Plus their costumes are different colors, have different symbols on the chest and have different cape colors. The sidekicks are even more dissimilar–each has a different costume design, including mask type and uniform color.

FWIW, Hamilton’s comic looks supremely generic, but his lawsuit now has me interested in JMS’ Sidekick which sounds like a neat concept.

Nah, sorry but this is a dick move on JMS’s part.

My instinct is to come to the defense of the underdog, but this guy doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. JMS’s Red Cowl is no more a rip-off of his Cowl than my Captain Miracle is a rip-off of Miracleman or Captain Marvel (any of them).

Charles Bryant

July 2, 2013 at 9:54 am

I love Hamiltons example of confusion. I mean, in addition to the Lantern example already mentioned, I’ve never heard of confusion regarding the Brown Hornet vs. The Green Hornet or The Bat vs. The Batman. Maybe it’s an intelligence test?

I don’t feel sorry for whoever Richard Hamilton is. He’s using bottom feeder tactics to try to force a settlement. That’s the real dickish move.

“Nah, sorry but this is a dick move on JMS’s part.”

How so?

The Beast Of Yucca Flats

July 2, 2013 at 10:40 am

“How so?”

Yeah, totally. I mean, yeah, JMS is a preening prat who couldn’t write like his heroes if he sold his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads, his Supes & BW work looked pretty but blew dogs for quarters, and Sidekick & Ted Grand reek from miles away of ‘seen this before’ and/or ‘done to death’… but do his words really get to damn him at *EVERY* turn now?

are we surprised ?this is the man who repeatedly tried to defend before watchmen
at its creators expense

Andrew Collins

July 2, 2013 at 10:58 am

Thank god JMS didn’t name the series “Sidekicks: Carnival Of Souls” or we’d never hear the end of it…

I would think Paul Jenkins…

….or J. Torres and Takeshi Miyazawa…

…would have more of a ground to C&D JMS than this guy does.

This is like the Warriors of Plasm lawsuit all over again. Pay those lawyers to fight over characters nobody cares about. This lawsuit seems pretty frivolous, but anything that makes JMS’s day a little worse is a good thing. Because hey, creators get ripped off all the time, right?

@Jason Green
When I first heard of this I actually thought it was Paul Jenkins’ book returning for another go-round.
I was disappointed that it wasn’t…

This seems to bean incredibly biased article. Where are the facts detailing Hamilton’s copyright or perspective. I don’t even see the obligatory “Hamilton could not be reached for comment,” did anyone even try? Its not unusual to pursue a rights before bringing a product to market, lack of current published material doesn’t mean anything.

I suppose JMS is a friend of the site whereas Hamilton’s just an aspiring creator like the rest of us so your bias is understandable, its just not appropriate or acceptable journalism.

“The Cowl” looks like a complete rip off of the Tim Drake Red Robin costume so I really don’t see where the guy gets off here. It’s sad when little Jackal to to tear of parts of a carcass for their own selfish little benefits.

It sounds like the lawyer is an arrogant idiot who either knows nothing or is delusional in his/her power to bully a creator. I’ve ran into too many lawyers in my lifetime who are theatrically stupid.

This is the best thing that could have possibly happened to this book.

Oh, please. He’s trying to trademark an article of clothing.

This is proof that a great idea can be the most dangerous single thing in your career – if the single idea is the only one you have. And clearly, this patent troll has dramatic business troubles.

How does Hamilton have a case? He never published his book….

“copying not only is arrogant…”

JMS? Arrogant? Naah. lol

Your story-telling style is darn out cool, keep up the good work!

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