Robot 6

DC won’t allow Superman logo on dead child’s memorial

jeffrey-baldwin-statue

What was likely viewed by DC Entertainment as a prudent — even standard — legal decision has snowballed into wincingly bad PR for the company, which now faces headlines like “Comic publisher blocks Superman logo on statue of murdered Toronto boy.”

The Canadian Press reports DC has denied permission for the trademarked “S” emblem to be engraved on a memorial statue for 5-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin, who died in 2002 of starvation and septic shock after years of abuse by his grandparents.

Jeffrey’s teenage parents lost custody of the boy and his three siblings, who were placed into the care of their maternal grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman. While two of the children were treated relatively well, Jeffrey and one of his sisters were locked in a dark room for 14 hours a day, deprived of food, verbally and mentally abused and left to live in their own waste. Bottineau and Kidman were convicted in 2006 of second-degree murder.

jeffrey baldwinThe case drew renewed interest last fall with a coroner’s inquest, during which Jeffrey’s father Richard Baldwin testified of the boy’s love of Superman. “He wanted to fly,” he said. “He tried jumping off the chair. We had to make him stop. He dressed up [as Superman] for Halloween one year. He was so excited. I have that picture at home hanging on my wall. He was our little man of steel.”

That testimony struck a chord with Todd Boyce, an Ottawa father of four who raised more than $36,000 on Indiegogo to fund a statue of Jeffrey in his Superman costume, sculpted by Ontario artist Ruth Abernethy. Everything went well, until it came to securing permission from DC to include that signature “S” shield.

The Toronto Star quotes an email to Boyce from Amy Genkins, DC’s senior vice president of business and legal affairs, who explained, “for a variety of legal reasons, we are not able to accede to the request, nor many other incredibly worthy projects that come to our attention.”

When contacted by ROBOT 6, DC declined comment.

Boyce told the newspaper he thinks DC doesn’t want Superman associated with child abuse. “I’m sort of empathetic to [DC’s] point of view on this, but I feel very strongly that the image of Jeffrey is so powerful,” he said. “It’s the image of a vulnerable boy dressed up as the most invulnerable character in the universe. So I just feel like there’s something lost if we change it.”

Still, Boyce said he’ll likely change the “S” to a “J” for Jeffrey, as the City of Toronto wants assurances the statue won’t run into legal problems. The statue is set to be complete by the end of summer for a fall unveiling.

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Comments

74 Comments

I wouldn’t even bother putting a letter. A cape, the shield outline itself on the statue of Jeffrey should be enough. A letter “J” would simply seem odd (though it is the boy’s initial). DC Entertainment doesn’t have the rights to the shape of a shield/diamond. Just go that route.

Simon DelMonte

July 8, 2014 at 7:12 am

DC is being silly, but will come around.

And don’t think me heartless, but why do we need a statue of a four year old boy? What happened was horrible, but we are just so obsessed now with treating every tragedy as something that demands its own special thing. Are we going to do statues for every victim of abuse? It gets absurd after a while.

Splint Chesthair

July 8, 2014 at 7:29 am

“We” aren’t building a statue, Simon DelMonte – Todd Boyce of Ottawa is. It obviously means a great deal to him, even if it doesn’t to you. For every “absurd” statue, thousands of people die needlessly without anyone giving any thought to it.

Can’t agree with the last comment, this was a touching gesture on My Boyce’s part, people need to be reminded of the problem of child abuse, and it’s better use of land than another chain store, et al.

Regarding DC, more proof that corporations are very interested in people, but they don’t really care about people – only themselves, even in a case where I don’t believe it would weaken their hold on their precious trademarks.

Oops, make that Mr DelMonte’s comment, instead of last

Part of me wants to say that they should just go ahead and make the statue with the Superman symbol. There’s no way DC/Warner can take any legal action that isn’t going to paint the company in an extremely negative light.

I think the “J” is a better idea anyway.

“Doesn’t want Superman associated with child abuse” ?

Given that was the whole thrust of Grant Morrison’s issue #0 of the Action Comics relaunch, I’d suggest the opposite. The new Superman was essentially launched around the notion of an abused boy overcoming his abuser and protecting his brother through the inspiration of Superman’s cape.

actully the s symbol falls under the superman copyright which dc and warners own. for can see in way they are wanting to protect their property of superman though it would have been a nice gesture to let the statue show how much a fan jeffery was and how he is a little boy of steel given the little kid got taken way too and did not get a life he deserved. besides if if they did sneak on the s symbol any way warners would be nasty enough to sue .bad publicity or not

Hurt them where it counts. No S on the statue? No buying any of your comics.

Simon DelMonte,
Every tragedy is something that demands its own “special thing.” Unfortunately, there are too many tragedies for that to be realistic. Who are you to judge whether or not this community should honor an abused and murdered child? Have a freaking heart.

Oh come on, DC! If you won’t allow them to put up the S coz you’re afraid you’ll be losing some trademark rights then make a S that fits the statue and donate it!

Jesus who even cares about the statue when the reason for it existing is so goddamn horrible? The poor kid doesn’t need an S, he needs a do over with better circumstances, and the grandparents need to be harassed and spit on for the rest of their lives.

Your legal team is supposed to protect your trademark and wreck your PR. Eff DC and Warner Brothers.

I agree with Sean, make a shield with the letter “J”. Jeffrey wanted to be a super-hero, so let him be one in his own right. I think Jeffrey would have loved being immortalized as a super-hero and as a symbol of hope to other abused and battered kids.

Have bought my last DC product. Ms Ghenkins needs to see Superman as a symbol, not just a trademark.

Loss of trademark isn’t the issue. You don’t lose a trademark by *granting permission* for its use; DC didn’t lose the trademark on the bat-symbol by licensing it to every toy manufacturer in the world to use it in 1989. The question is about the association.

Superman’s “S” stood for the word Hope on his planet. What more fitting tribute to the hope that held that little boy together through this tragedy and the hope, ever mindful to no let it happen again to any other child.

I agree with Andy Tan’s suggestion. DC should make an S shield that fits the little statue and gift it. Everybody wins, especially DC.

Matt Halteman

July 8, 2014 at 9:11 am

Simon DelMonte, I DO think you heartless. What an idiotic thing to say. I hope to God you never have a child who dies, so some thoughtless person on the internet can say that anything you do to remember that child is in any way “absurd”.

It’s a slippery slope. Today Superman , tomorrow whole Justice League . Comics and fiction should be entertaining , not depressing…

DC (WB) has always been ridiculous when it comes to copyright infringement and the like, but this is absurd.

Way to keep your pulse on the heartbeat of America, corporate ass-hats.

Of course, reading a lot of these comments, wherein posters are more concerned about comic book characters than real people, I see I’m still embarrassed to be a comics fan.

I think DC is being unfairly targeted here. There are few things in the Toronto Star article that people are not noticing.

1. This is not a private memorial to Jeffrey Baldwin; rather Todd Boyce wanted to gift/donate the memorial to the City of Toronto as part of a city park.

2. City of Toronto staff asked Todd to confirm with DC that there were no copyright issues with the memorial.

3. DC replied, just based on the context of copyright, that there a number of issues and could not authorize the request. Mind you, the email is quoted and I think it would have helped to see the full communication between Todd and DC.

I think if Todd had put the statue on Jeffrey’s grave site as a memorial, I don’t think DC would have gotten involved and would have been unaware of this work. It became more complicated once the lawyers got involved (City of Toronto and DC) due to the donation component.

Jeremie Kuhlman

July 8, 2014 at 9:31 am

I’m extremely certain, like 99% sure, that if they put the symbol on the statue, and the statue wasn’t being used for profit, there isn’t a damn thing DC could do about it anyway. Much like Etsy – it’s legal so long as it’s not a direct copy of products already being created. Is DC creating memorial gravestones?

Sebastian Prior

July 8, 2014 at 9:38 am

The $36,000 raised for the statue could have gone to abused and neglected kids who are, you know, actually alive and need support. People are so stupid sometimes.

Seriously, who cares.

DC should start cracking down on artists in Artists’ Alleys across the country at countless comic cons, selling unlicensed Superman prints with that S on it, not to mention their character’s likeness. At least this guy, with the purest intentions and NOT for profit, asked permission. I can think of three different businesses in my hometown right now using that S (one of them is a dry cleaners). They never asked, and DC will never know. It’s a shame.

@Russ, Todd didn’t ask for permission; it was the City of Toronto who correctly asked him to confirm if there were no copyright issues.

It’s a shame that a nice gesture like this is getting caught up in legal red tape.

I hope DC switches and gives permission to use the S. It seems the noble thing to do. I doubt Superman would mind.

Sebastian, I absolutely agree with you. And to take it a step further, DC should at least match the donation and support such an institution, with or without supporting the use of the ‘S’ symbol. In fact, DC could have established a fund or a program for these kids, instead of making it a political football. Personally, I am disappointed that DC won’t allow the use of Supes symbol. I think it would have been a bigger win in their pocket that a loss.

I was going to buy at least one DC comic this week.

Not anymore. I’d rather shell out an extra buck for one of Marvel’s. My little way of protest, I guess.

Open Letter to DC:

You are the caretakers for Superman, a property you have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting for in court over the last ten years. And when you own a character, you own all of that character. Superman, above all, stands for doing the right thing. Protecting those that can’t protect themselves.

If this were a Superman story, do you think for a minute he wouldn’t put a copy of his shield on the statue of a child who adored him? A child who couldn’t defend himself?

Sometimes you have to do the right thing – not as publishers, or a corporation – but as human beings. You allow that shield to be used as fan art, on etsy (as stated on this thread), for parody purposes, but this – THIS – is where you say no?

The family has stated they understand. And it IS an understandable position – if you’re a robot. But this kid, this kid who read your Superman comics, who dressed as your greatest icon, who dreamed of flying – what is the hurt in giving his family just one last piece of closure?

It’s a statue in a park. In five minutes, this story won’t matter to you or us or anyone but the family. But you have the opportunity to do something great for an awful situation that falls in line with the worldview of your most popular creation.

Man, there’s nothing like a comment board to make you completely lose your faith in your fellow humans. Some of you people are coldhearted pieces of crap.

$36,000 for a statue? I think the real outrage here is that someone used a tragedy to profiteer.

Its also rare these days to have children as fans
of comic characters.

Always a “fair and balanced coverage”, right CBR?

Let’s be fair, a five year old who died 12 years ago isn’t going to care there isn’t a trademarked “S” on his statue. My heart breaks for the poor little boy who suffered a horrible death, but this isn’t about him. It’s about Todd Boyce digging his heels in to make DC out to be a heartless blood-sucking conglomerate when he didn’t even know the boy and likely is just causing drama to promote how wonderful he thinks he is. Let’s be real, DC isn’t stopping the ‘S’ from appearing on Christopher Reeve’s grave or something, and even then I’d argue it doesn’t really need a fictional character’s logo to memorialize a human life. People just want an excuse to bash DC.

I wanted to go all apesh*t on DC for this but I suspect they may fear some backlash from the Siegel family as they’ve been (rightfully so, or not…your opinion) ruthless about the copyright issue. Samir also makes some good points above.

It would be nice if people who don’t know the difference between copyrights and trademarks would stop trying to explain the legal issues involved here.

Just because some people don’t like where the line is drawn in a particular situation or issue, it doesn’t invalidate the line. Allowing this could set a precedent, and make the slope a slippery one. I think the “J” is more fitting anyway, as it reflects the individual concerned.

I am with DC on this.

Good work DC. This is most likely a legal licensing issue, where no one can use the logo or likeness without permission. It does seem a little odd that they would not make an exception.

To Arden: give me a fkn break!

Brian from Canada

July 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm

BAAAAAAD reporting on CBR’s part!

In the Canadian press, there is NO quote from lawyers regarding copyright. It’s only about the association with child abuse, and the artist SAYS, in quotes, that he was angry at first but — after meeting to discuss the issue with DC — he understands their position. Changes were made to better celebrate Jeffrey.

Boyce did not “dig in his heels” to make DC look bad. DC was asked whether they wanted to allow their logo on a statue celebrating a child abuse victim and they said “no.” It’s one thing to have a comic in which Superman fights child abuse, it’s another to put a statue of a victim dressed as Superman without any context that “died of child abuse in the foster care system.”

This article also fails to mention that, instead of getting permission from Hasbro, the statue just went and bronzed in a Hot Wheels car because the sister remembered he liked toy cars.

DC Entertainment wants Superman to remain a symbol of hope and strength that you can survive — not succumb. They have that right. We do not know if they offered financial support or not, if they offered emotional support or not, or if they felt anything or not — it’s the media that wants to make DC look evil by saying they aren’t commenting on a story that just broke.

Then again, I guess it’s typical. The US media isn’t reporting that the people trying to help Detroit citizens get their water back after years of non-payment are Canadians (they make it appear as purely local).

Brian from Canada

July 8, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Oh, and PS: the latest articles are noting DC Entertainment also blocked having Batman included in a statue honouring those 12 who were killed in Colorado during the Dark Knight shooting.

The company really does have an issue associating its heroes with tragedy.

Unlike, say, Marvel owner Disney, which ordered day care centres to paint over Bambi and Mickey Mouse unless they received an annual payment for their use.

1. DC is no longer using the version of the “S” shield that would appear on the statue — Jim Lee’s redesign is more angular, because that’s more extreme, or something.

2. What the hell is wrong with DC?

3. What the hell is wrong with people who are defending DC on this?

Darren Duncan

July 8, 2014 at 12:44 pm

I don’t see why a Superman logo should have to be on a child’s memorial; the memorial can honour the child in some other way that doesn’t rely on exact reproduction of some commercial or cultural property. Its not like there’s any precedent with other people having commercial superhero images on their graves is there? I don’t have a problem with DC’s position. Automatically taking a side because a child is involved in any matter is a fallacy, like a lesser twin of “think of the children”. That being said, as to whether or not Superman should now be in the public domain, that’s a different discussion.

I think if you spin it like a marketing oppertunity they might wuickly change their minds. Having the S in the park is basically free advertising. Not only do you “support” a good cause you also gain new interest. People ask questions learn and buy. I’m not seeing a downside for DC.

What makes Bambi on a day care center different from a memorial statue is that the daycare center uses the images as decoration to promote the appearance of their facilities to encourage parents to allow their kids to go there to gain a profit. A memorial is just that a remembrance, that will gain no future profit, and ironically would probably act as a form of advertisement for Superman. For people complaining about the price of the statue clearly do not know how much grave memorials cost, or the cost of having an artist create a statue at all (Particularly in bronze).

Bottom line, it’s a bad look and just more negative PR for DC.

Just read an opinion piece elsewhere on this and they bring up some great points.

Out of context, the “S” shield on the statue brings to mind Superboy. In twenty years will anyone not immediately involved in what happened even remember his name?

DC is not the villain here. While the company does enough on its own to raise the ire of its fans, this isn’t one. The media has focused on what jerks DC is and not how horrible what happened was or how terrible his grandparents were to him.

At the end of the day, this is a non-issue that has been blown up into a controversy that it never should have been. Headlines for the sake of some hits is all this is. I get that a comic book news site needs to have news but surely there are real news items out there?

DC has had enough trouble with the Siegel’s over this copyright. I do not blame them for protecting it. That said. Some people bring flowers to the grave of loved ones. This family can bring the ‘S’ shield to his memorial .

Sad, sad case though. Thoughts go out to the family.

MARVEL RULES !!!!!!!!! Just another reason to dislike DC. Too bad the kid wasn’t a Spidey fan :( How anyone can defend this decision must either not have kids or be completely heartless.

Dearth Weevil

July 8, 2014 at 2:39 pm

@Brian from Canada – I would disagree about CBR’s reporting being bad. The initial reports did not include any of the later statements by Boyse, which were added today, presumably after DC reached out to him on this after the initial bad publicity. Also, the report above says that CBR tried to contact DC, but they refused to make a statement. You really can’t blame CBR for not including DC’s side of things, when they expressly declined to comment…

DC doesn’t want it’s character associated with child abuse? Has anyone at DC ever READ a superman comic? One of the most, in my opinion, powerful and memorable stories in the final years of the pre-new 52 superman occured during the “grounded” storyline where superman encountered a young boy who was a victim of abuse and was also a huge fan of the Metropolis Marvel. In the story, superman acknowledged that there was nothing he could do legally and in fact would never even have been aware of the situation if the child, who was locked in the basement, hadn’t called out to him as he was walking past the house. The man of steel did however verbally tear into the boys father and warned that from now on he would always be checking in and that there would be dire consequences if the boy was hurt. He then gave the child a cell phone with Clark Kent’s number and told him that if he ever felt threatened, Clark could get a message to superman who would respond immediately. This story acknowledges that can’t save, or even be aware of, everyone’s struggles but you still do what you can to make the world a brighter place. Putting the “s” shield on this boys memorial is absolutely the thing superman would do. In fact, he would most likely burn it there himself with his heat vision.

Will you people saying you’re done with DC products please think for a minute? If DC had said yes, this wouldn’t have been an article. DC gets no good press from their “good deed.” Then, when people talk about superman, people that have seen this recall the statue. The narrative changes to child abuse. Now, not only is their project not being talked about but it’s unconsciously associated with horrible things. Which is the exact reason they gave.

Horrible shit happens. It doesn’t mean DC doesn’t care.

Sad how the costume can be legally used in a porn movie but not for this purpose. Sigh.

I guess I understand why the use of the logo could not be allowed. But there is a simple solution. Just buy a small shirt with the logo and out it on the statue. No copyright infringement, and no legal hassle.

The S symbol is for a memorial statue for a victim of child abuse. This is about doing what is right not about trademark infringement. Superman is supposed to be a hero so what is so wrong about making this victim of child abuse Superboy. Having a heart is more important than protecting against trademark infringements.

Should just let them use on of the superman “S” shields they haven’t used in a while

The only reason this is a story is because they said no. They say yes, no blowback, no outrage and simply good PR. And stop getting on CBR for “reporting”. What are they the New York Times? They brought the comic industry side of the story to light. Go find CNN or something if you want to know more. Probably a good idea.

This is just sad. F**k the legal red tape, and be just humans for a while, DC/Warner.

Brian from Canada

July 8, 2014 at 5:24 pm

@ Dearth:

This story made the rounds three days ago in Canada. The quote from the artist about how he met with DC and came to understand their point of view was in that initial story. Curiously, it has been omitted in a lot of retellings on other sites. Someone somewhere thinks it’s better to shame WB/DC into letting their trade mark be used on memorials than to put the situation into proper context.

DC doesn’t want to be associated with tragedies. They turned down the Colorado memorial first and this would have to follow. Also, the plaque that goes with it will not necessarily explain the story, focusing on the memorial aspect rather than why this boy thought himself a superhero.

Turning the ‘S’ into a ‘J’ isn’t just compromise — it turns the kid’s heart into that of someone wanting to be a superhero. The ONLY reason it had an ‘S’ on it in the first place is that he’s wearing a Superman shirt in the photo that the bronze is capturing.

As for profit… the artist is getting his name around for it. It’s not the first time he’s done a public sculpture to promote something: it gets him notice which he otherwise wouldn’t have.

From Superman Homepage:
http://www.supermanhomepage.com/news.php?readmore=15223

The issue is with international trademark law, not with DC. DC is a corporation, beholden to shareholders and the law… as such, they have an obligation to their investors and according to law to prevent the dilution of their mark.

Trademarks, unlike copyright, is meant to protect the theoretical consumer by providing them with an indication of source and endorsement. If a company fails to protect its mark, the mark becomes “generic” (belonging to the people) and the company loses the right to exclude others from using the mark (and likewise the exclusive merchandise and advertising tied to the mark). For example, Thermos, Xerox, and Kleenex have all, to some degree, lost the right to defend their marks against competitors because they’ve fallen into the public lexicon as generic terms for all products in their class.

Applied here, DC does not have the luxury of excusing this use. The best they can do is come to a licensing agreement, but that would be essentially endorsing a grave marker and signifying themselves as the source of the product. It is not at all unreasonable for DC to not want that association and why they can’t come to compromise here like they did in the case of the Superman Barbershop (where they did license the Shield to the owner by way of settlement).

The fault lies with outdated Trademark Law which does not consider the people (or corporations) sophisticated enough to understand exceptions like these as neither endorsements nor waivers. Unless and until such law is made to address situations like these, DC is obligated to protect its mark and not make any endorsements its shareholders won’t accept.

To elaborate further, recall that this was a commissioned piece for profit. Here, the motive was arguably good, but imagine DC excuses it here and doesn’t defend their mark. Shortly thereafter an unsavory person starts to create, unsolicited, Superman caskets for infants. DC sues for the infringing use of their mark. What is going to be the infringer’s defense? “Obviously they didn’t care about their mark… see, they didn’t stop or sue the gravestone maker from using their mark without permission.” If that territory is ceded, then the precedent is set for the market is free to be flooded with morbid Superman Shields.

If Trademark Law was more sophisticated, DC wouldn’t have to worry about making such exceptions, but here… when something was crafted for-profit using their mark without permission, the law makes them fight or give up the mark altogether in similar situations.

I hasten to add this line from the article corroborating my explanation:

“To be fair to DC I don’t think they wanted to say no. I think they gave it serious thought.”

Essentially, DC’s only other option was to enter the gravestone business henceforth, and I can’t fault them for not dragging the entire mark into that arena just because one family didn’t understand the IP implications of their actions.

“Having a heart is more important than protecting against trademark infringements.”

Yes but sadly money makes the world go around so the decision is all about trademark rights and intellectual property. Andres B has a nice solution however, buy a legally licensed t-shirt with the Superman logo and put that on the statue.

Horrible thing to happen, just freaking let them, heck I think just the Cape would be a nice idea… But if we really want to go into copyright infringement, maybe marvel should look at all the ironworker unions, they have spider-man stickers being sold, hulk ones, as well as ironman ones being used to represent a bunch of druggies

Oh, look. DC is making another bad decision. At least this one doesn’t involve firing good writers or making another gimmick cover.
“No comment” is still a comment in a way and it says a mouthful.
I used to love DC. Read nothing but until 3 years ago. The decisions they have made in the last few years astound me.

I honestly don’t blame DC. We live in a world where people will sue for anything because they are offended. We can’t even have Christmas tree’s in public places or teach Evolution in schools without someone being offended and filing a law suit. If anything be mad at society, not DC.

OMG THAT IS SO AWFUL!!!! The Grandparents are monsters for what they did to that little boy and his sister. Not only am I glad to see justice done to the grandparents, but I sincerely hope they rot in hell for what they did to him!!

As for DC, in my mind, they are almost just as bad for not giving the parents permission for wanting there only son to have a great tombstone that was generously funded by kind giving people. Imagine what would have happened if DC had done the same thing with that boy who survived leukemia who wanted to be Batman for the day. DC you are total A-HOLES for not giving them permission to honor that poor boy by giving him this one act of kindness!!

Seems the solution would be for DC to create a non-profit arm of their organization who can “donate” use of their trademark properties to help other organizations generate awareness. Great tax shelter and everybody wins. The idea that these fictional heroes aren’t allowed to do any real heroics is shameful. Batkid had his time to shine and DC didn’t stop that despite tons of their licenses being used and broadcast all over the world. Be the change you want to see in the world.

DC willingly ignores fetish producers making thousands off their licensed characters but deny this request…that’s pretty sad

Screw the S symbol contact Marvel and get them to sponsor the statue. Put a statue of the hulk and iron man next to him and allow marvel to show how much they support this. This poor baby it breaks my heart. I hope the grandparents suffer as much if not more as this beautiful little boy did.

Welcome to another episode of “Never-Ending Internet Drama”
I really wish someone made a harsh satire of the whole case,
criticizing both sides of the argument.

DC blocks this yet Shaquille O’neil can put the s shield over everything he owns? Good job DC.

Looks like DC has reversed course. Everyone who contorted themselves yesterday in trying to explain how the company was doing the right thing can now contort themselves in trying to explain how the company is doing the wrong thing, I suppose.

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