Legal Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources

Supreme Court to hear dispute over Spider-Man toy

web blaster

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Marvel owes royalty payments to the creator of a Spider-Man toy after the patent for the Web Blaster expired.

As first reported by Courthouse News Service, Stephen Kimble patented the toy in 1990 and then approached Marvel to license the rights. Marvel passed, and when another company began manufacturing a similar toy — it shoots foam string, simulating Spider-Man’s web-shooters — Kimble sued, claiming patent infringement and breach of implied contract.

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Ringleader pleads guilty in robbery that led to comic collector’s death

Rico J. Vendetti

Rico J. Vendetti

A Rochester, New York, businessman admitted Friday he orchestrated a 2010 home invasion that resulted in the death of a 77-year-old comic book collector.

Although Rico J. Vendetti faced federal murder charges, The Buffalo News reports he pleaded guilty to racketeering for planning the robbery of the $30,000 comic book collection of retired custodian Homer Marciniak, and hiring seven people to pull it off.

Prosecutors contend that Vendetti had long operated an eBay scam in which he hired “professional boosters” to steal $665,000 in merchandise from stores in the region and then sell it to him for 25 cents on the dollar. He in turn would list the items on Craiglist and eBay, earning an estimated $42,000 a month.

Vendetti allegedly had a similar scheme in mind when he learned about the classic comic collection of Marciniak, a well-liked man who lived alone in the village of Medina, New York. Authorities say the hired criminals cut the phone line to Marciniak’s house on July 5, 2010, only to be confronted by him once they were inside. The burglars beat the homeowner and knocked him to the floor, and made off with the comics, safes, cash, coins and guns.

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Former investigator indicted in theft of vintage comics

A copy of "All Winners Comics" #1 was among the stolen comics

A copy of “All Winners Comics” #1 was among the stolen comics

A grand jury in Harris County, Texas, has indicted a former investigator for the district attorney’s office accused of stealing thousands of dollars in rare comics.

The Houston Chronicle reports Dustin Deutsch was indicted Tuesday on charges of felony theft by a public servant and tampering with evidence, stemming from an embezzlement case he and his former partner Lonnie Blevins were investigating in 2012 for the district attorney’s office.

Blevins was arrested in January 2013 following an FBI investigation into the theft of rare comics seized from the home and storage units of Anthony Chiofalo, a corporate attorney who embezzled $9.3 million from his employer, and then spent a sizable chunk of the money on high-priced collectibles, including a copy of Detective Comics #27 valued at $900,000.

Blevins pleaded guilty in May to taking more than $5,000 worth of those comics and selling them at a convention in Chicago. He’s awaiting sentencing.

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Spanish soccer team abandons new bat logo after DC challenge

batman-valencia

A Spanish soccer club has decided not to use an updated version of its traditional bat emblem, avoiding a possible legal fight with DC Comics.

News surfaced last week that the publisher had opposedd the trademark registration by La Liga club Valencia C.F., insisting the new variation of the team’s bat crest too closely resembles the familiar Batman emblem.

But now, The Guardian reports, Valencia says it no longer plans to use the new design after DC “presented its opposition to the request.” The club emphasized “there does not exist a lawsuit by DC Comics.”

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Batman and Joker take their fight to New York City Council

joker-batman

Longtime arch-enemies, Batman and The Joker faced off once more on Wednesday, only this time about a plan to require Times Square’s costumed characters to be licensed.

Wearing makeup and a red suit embellished with black bats, the Clown Prince of Crime told New York City Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee that the bill amounts to “fascism.”

“I might look like a clown but I’m speaking from the heart,” the New York Daily News quote The Joker, aka Keith Albahae, as saying. “I do this from my heart and not for tips. OK, I do ask for tips. And many people are glad to give them, but this is about the First Amendment and this is about discrimination. This straight-up seems like fascism.”

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DC argues Spanish soccer club logo is too much like Batman’s

batman-valencia

DC Comics is reportedly challenging the new logo of a Spanish soccer team, insisting it too closely resembles the familiar Batman emblem.

According to Eurosport, La Liga club Valencia C.F. sought to register a trademark for a variation of its crest, leading the publisher to file a complaint with the European Union’s Office for the Harmonization of the Internal Market.

As the website notes, the bat has been used in Spanish heraldry since the 13th century, and is part of the coat of arms of Valencia and other cities in eastern Spain. Valencia C.F. has used bats in its club logo since 1919, two decades before the debut of the Dark Knight in Detective Comics #27.

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Donald Duck goes undercover in police crosswalk sting

duck-cops

Dozens of drivers in Fort Lee, New Jersey, were ticketed on Halloween for failing to yield at a crosswalk to a 6-foot-8-inch Donald Duck. Go ahead, read that sentence again.

The police department saw the holiday as a perfect opportunity to deploy its decoy program, and dressed an officer as the Disney character to ensure motorists are stopping for pedestrians. By day’s end, WABC-TV reports, 130 drivers received tickets of $230, plus two points on their licenses.

However, one motorist insists the Duckburg-style sting wasn’t fair, and pledges to fight her ticket.

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It’s official: Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain

watson and holmes4The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to consider a case brought by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle, which means the bulk of the Sherlock Holmes stories and characters have officially entered the public domain.

The author’s estate petitioned the high court in September, seeking to overturn a Seventh Circuit finding that 50 Sherlock Holmes stories published before Jan. 1, 1923, have entered the public domain.

Doyle’s heirs had long insisted that publishers, television networks and film studios pay a licensing fee to use the characters and story elements. Many, including Warner Bros. and CBS, complied, but Sherlock Holmes expert Leslie Klinger refused to fork over $5,000 while assembling In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of new stories written by different authors. When the Doyle estate sent a letter to the publisher threatening to block sales of the book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers, Klinger sued.

In a series of legal defeats, the Doyle estate not only lost any claim to the stories but had to endure stinging public reprimands by Judge Richard Posner, who labeled the licensing fees as “a form of extortion” and praised Klinger for performing a “public service” by filing his lawsuit.

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Stan Lee Media can’t assert Spider-Man ownership in Disney suit

Stan Lee Media

Stan Lee Media

Still reeling from its loss Wednesday in the Ninth Circuit, Stan Lee Media today suffered another defeat in Pennsylvania, where a federal judge ruled the failed dot-com can’t insert itself into Disney’s dispute with a theater company by asserting ownership of Spider-Man.

As you may recall, Disney in September 2013 sued Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based American Music Theatre, claiming its musical revue Broadway: Now and Forever used unlicensed elements Spider-Man, Mary Poppins and The Lion King. However, as Disney’s attorneys later noted, that “simple case” was “transmogrified” when the theater announced it had retroactively licensed Spider-Man … from Stan Lee Media.

That conveniently opened the door for the company to sue Disney, seeking a jury trial regarding ownership of Spider-Man, an issue Stan Lee Media argued had never been directly addressed by any court. It was certainly a creative maneuver using one of the few potential paths left to pursue its fight with Marvel and Disney (a clearly annoyed judge had warned in September 2013 that any attempt to amend its previous lawsuit against the House of Mouse would be “futile”).

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Ninth Circuit delivers another blow to Stan Lee Media

stan leeEven as Disney and Stan Lee Media argue their case in one appeals court, another has dealt a setback to the failed dot-com’s feud with its co-founder and namesake.

According to Courthouse News Service, a panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that a California federal judge made the right decision in 2012 when he dismissed a shareholder lawsuit against Stan Lee seeking millions in profits and ownership of his Marvel co-creations.

Stan Lee Media has long insisted that between August 1998, when Marvel terminated Lee’s $1 million-a-year lifetime contract, and November 1998, when he entered into a new agreement with the House of Ideas, the legendary creator signed over his likeness and the rights to all of the characters he co-created — Spider-Man, the Avengers and the X-Men, among them — to Stan Lee Entertainment, which later merged with Stan Lee Media. That company in turned filed for bankruptcy in February 2001; it emerged from protection in November 2006, and within months, the first of numerous lawsuits (against Marvel, Lee, Disney and others) was filed.

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Deadmau5 responds to Disney, reveals fallout of trademark fight

disney-fantasica-deadmau5

When we last left Deadmau5, the world-famous DJ/producer was publicly accusing Disney of copyright infringement in retaliation for the entertainment giant’s effort to block the trademark for his signature “mau5head” logo. At 171 pages, the company’s notice of opposition was certainly thorough, but that’s nothing compared to the DJ’s formal response.

Hollywood Esq. reports that on Monday, Deadmau5 filed more than 1,000 pages — when you take exhibits into account — with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, addressing not only the drier issues of whether his logo might be confused with Disney’s famed mouse ears, but also some considerably more interesting matters.

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Stan Lee Media fights to resurrect lawsuit against Stan Lee

stan leeStan Lee Media was back in court on Thursday, seeking to revive its lawsuit against co-founder and namesake Stan Lee for millions in profits and ownership of his Marvel co-creations.

Law 360 reports the failed dot com argued before a panel of the Ninth Circuit that the case shouldn’t have been dismissed in 2012 by a California federal judge simply because an identical action in New York was determined two years earlier to be time-barred. However, Lee’s attorney countered that the lead plaintiff in both shareholder actions was Jose Abadin, president of Stan Lee Media.

The backstory is familiar by now to ROBOT 6 readers, but here’s the CliffsNotes version: In 1998, during Marvel’s bankruptcy, CEO Isaac Perlmutter briefly ended its $1-million-a-year lifetime contract with Lee, freeing the legendary creator to form Stan Lee Entertainment, which later merged with Stan Lee Media. That company in turned filed for bankruptcy in February 2001; just four months after SLM emerged from protection in November 2006, shareholders filed a $5 billion lawsuit against Marvel.

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Supreme Court won’t intervene in Shuster-DC fight over Superman

Action Comics #1The U.S. Supreme Court this morning declined to intervene in the copyright dispute between the Joe Shuster Estate and DC Comics, effectively ending the long, and frequently bitter, battle over who owns Superman.

By denying the estate’s petition, the justices let stand a November 2013 ruling by the Ninth Circuit that Shuster’s nephew is prevented by a 1992 agreement with DC from reclaiming the artist’s stake in the first Superman story under a clause of the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act.

At issue was a now 22-year-old deal in which the Shuster estate relinquished all claims to the property in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” which included paying Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and providing his sister Jean Peavy and brother Frank Shuster with a $25,000 annual pension. In October 2012, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright found that the agreement invalidated a copyright-termination notice filed in 2003 by Shuster’s nephew Mark Peary. Less than three months later, the Ninth Circuit overturned a 2008 decision granting the heirs of Jerry Siegel the writer’s 50-percent share of the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1.

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Marvel-Kirby dispute is over, but larger copyright issues remain

jack kirbyLaw.com has an interesting follow-up to the surprise settlement last week in the five-year-old legal battle between Marvel and Jack Kirby’s heirs, noting that the larger copyright issue at its center remain unresolved.

The children of the legendary artist filed 45 copyright-termination notices in September 2009, seeking to reclaim what they saw as their father’s stake in such Marvel characters as the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk. Marvel, joined by its then-new parent company Disney, responded with a lawsuit, setting the dispute down a path that ultimately saw the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirm Kirby’s contributions to the publisher between 1959 and 1963 were “work for hire,” and therefore not subject to copyright termination.

Under a clause in the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act, which extended the duration of copyright, authors or their heirs can reclaim rights transferred before 1978 after a period of 56 years. However, if a work is determined to be “for hire,” meaning it was created by an employee as part of his employment or specially commissioned as part of a larger work, then the publisher (or movie studio, record label, etc.) owns the copyright, and it is not subject to termination.

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‘Asterix’ co-creator Albert Uderzo ends feud with daughter

albert uderzoThe bitter, drawn-out legal battle between Asterix co-creator Albert Uderzo and his daughter Sylvie has at last come to an end, the two announced today.

According to Agence France-Presse, they said in a joint statement that they are “reunited again and determined to make a clean sweep of the grievances raised by both sides.” Any existing legal complaints will be dropped.

The dispute dates back to at least 2007, when Sylvie and her husband Bernard de Choizy were dismissed from their senior positions at Les Éditions Albert René, the publishing company Albert founded in 1979, following the death of Asterix co-creator Rene Goscinny. The family quarrel erupted into the public eye two years later, when Sylvie criticized her father’s decision to sell his stake in the company to Hachette Livre and authorize the publisher to continue Asterix after his death.

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