Legal Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources

Supreme Court won’t stay Sherlock Holmes copyright ruling

sherlock holmesUnfortunately for the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Case of the Sherlock Holmes Copyrights” hasn’t developed into much of a mystery, as its efforts to prevent many of the stories and characters from lapsing into the public domain have met with one defeat after another.

The latest came Thursday from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kegan, who refused to delay the June 16 decision by the Seventh Circuit that the characters and story elements in the first 50 Sherlock Holmes stories are no longer protected by U.S. copyright, and therefore available for other writers and artists to use and adapt.

Considering those stories were published before Jan. 1, 1923, it might seem obvious that they had lapsed into the public domain in the United States. However, the Doyle estate has long been protective of the lucrative property, insisting that publishers, television networks and film studios pay a licensing fee to use the characters and story elements. Many, including Warner Bros. and CBS, have complied. But Holmes expert Leslie Klinger, who served as a consultant on Guy Richie’s film adaptations, refused to hand over $5,000 while he was 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.

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Singapore bans Archie collection featuring Kevin Keller wedding [Updated]

archie-the married lifeThe third volume of Archie comics’ Archie: The Married Life has been banned in Singapore because the collection includes the issue depicting the wedding of gay character Kevin Keller.

The move was discovered by Singapore-based cartoonist Sonny Liew (The Shadow Hero, My Life With Frankie), who searched for the collection in the Books Kinokuniya online catalog following the controversial decision by the National Library Board to removed and destroy copies of three gay-themed children’s books amid public pressure.

Finding volumes 1, 2, 4 and 5 but not the third — which contains Keller’s marriage to Clay Walker in Life With Archie #16 — Liew contacted the retailer, and received the following response: “We regret that Archie the Married Life 3 is deemed to breach the Content Guidelines for Imported Publications, and removed from sale by notice of MDA. We are not able to sell this title.”

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Marvel asks Supreme Court to deny Kirby heirs’ petition

marvel logoMarvel has urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to review a petition from the heirs of Jack Kirby in a copyright-termination dispute that could have implications beyond comics, extending into film, music and publishing.

In papers filed Monday with the high court, and first reported by Deadline, Marvel insists the case doesn’t “remotely merit” review, as, “It implicates no circuit split, no judicial taking, no due process violation, and no grave matter of separation of powers.”

Kirby’s heirs have argued, so far unsuccessfully, that the legendary artist’s contributions to the publisher between 1958 to 1963 — among them, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk — weren’t produced as “work for hire” and, therefore, are subject to a clause in the U.S. Copyright Act that permits authors and their heirs to reclaim rights transferred before 1978. Marvel and Disney dispute that claim, saying Kirby’s output was indeed work for hire, a position supported in 2011 by a federal judge and last year by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Doyle estate can’t stay Sherlock Holmes copyright decision

watson and holmes4A federal judge has refused to stay a Seventh Circuit decision affirming that most of the Sherlock Holmes stories have lapsed into the public domain as the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

An attorney for the estate told Law360 the denial on Wednesday by U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner was “no surprise,” adding that “the real question” is whether the high court will grant the estate’s motion.

Last month the Seventh Circuit upheld a lower-court decision that the elements included in the 50 Sherlock Holmes stories published before Jan. 1, 1923, are in the public domain in the United States. It rejected the Doyle estate’s rather novel argument that the great detective is a “complex” character who was effectively incomplete until the author’s final story was published in this country, leaving the entire body of work protected by copyright.

Doyle’s heirs have 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.

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Shuster estate asks Supreme Court to take up Superman case

From Action Comics #1

From Action Comics #1

The estate of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that bars it from reclaiming a stake in the character, arguing the artist’s siblings didn’t have the ability to assign his copyrights to DC Comics more than two decades ago.

As Law360 reports, the estate insists the Ninth Circuit erred in its November ruling that the family relinquished all claims to Superman in 1992 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.

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Hollywood guilds join push for Supreme Court to hear Kirby case

jack kirbyThree organizations representing Hollywood actors, directors and screenwriters have thrown their weight behind an effort to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal by the heirs of Jack Kirby that could have ramifications far beyond Marvel and the comics industry.

The case, as most readers know by now, involves the copyrights to the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Thor and other characters created or co-created by Kirby during his time at Marvel in the 1960s. The artist’s children filed 45 copyright-termination notices in September 2009, seeking to reclaim what they believe to his stake in the properties under the terms of the U.S. Copyright Act. Marvel responded with a lawsuit, which led to a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s 1960s creations were work for hire and therefore not subject to copyright reclamation. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in August 2013, which brings us to the Kirby family’s petition to the Supreme Court.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Screen Actors Guild-Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America have filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief that insists the Second Circuit’s ruling “jeopardizes the statutory termination rights that many Guild members may possess in works they created.”

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Will Supreme Court weigh in on Kirby heirs’ fight with Marvel?

kirby marvel charactersIn an interesting analysis, Eriq Gardner of The Hollywood Reporter sees signs the U.S. Supreme Court might consider the five-year dispute between Jack Kirby’s heirs and Marvel over the copyrights to many of the company’s most popular characters.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in August upheld a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s Marvel creation in the 1960s were work for hire, and therefore not subject to copyright reclamation by his children. (They had filed 45 copyright-termination notices in September 2009, seeking to reclaim what they saw as their father’s stake in such characters as the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk; Marvel fired back with a lawsuit.) In their March petition to the Supreme Court, the Kirby heirs took aim at the Second Circuit’s “instance and expense” test, arguing that it “invariably finds that the pre-1978 work of an independent contractor is ‘work for hire’ under the 1909 Act.”

Gardner points out the the justices discussed the petition at a May conference, and then requested that Marvel respond (the company initially didn’t file a response). Those p0tential portents were followed by a pair of friend-of-the-court briefs: one filed by Bruce Lehman, former director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, on behalf of himself, former U.S. Register of Copyrights Ralph Oman, the Artists Rights Society and others, and the other by attorney Steven Smyrski on behalf of longtime Kirby friend Mark Evanier, Kirby historian John Morrow and the PEN Center USA.

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Doyle estate loses appeal over Sherlock Holmes copyrights

watson-holmes6In the end, a federal appeals court didn’t find the case of Sherlock Holmes’ copyright status as mysterious, or as complex, as the Arthur Conan Doyle estate hoped, and today upheld that the bulk of the stories have lapsed into the public domain in the United States.

As Hollywood Esq. reports, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t buy the Doyle estate’s novel claim that Holmes is a “complex” character who was effectively incomplete until the author’s final story was published in the United States, leaving the entire body of work protected by copyright.

Although 50 Sherlock Holmes stories were released before Jan. 1, 1923, Doyle’s heirs have 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.

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Doyle estate insists Sherlock Holmes remains under copyright

sherlock holmesThe estate of Arthur Conan Doyle asked a seemingly unsympathetic Seventh Circuit on Thursday to overturn a lower-court ruling that the elements from the first 50 Sherlock Holmes stories have lapsed into the public domain in the United States.

According to Law 360, estate attorney Benjamin Allison insisted that U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo erred in December 2013 when he rejected the novel argument that the characters were effectively incomplete until the author’s final Holmes story was published in the United States, leaving the work protected by copyright. Castillo instead determined that all but the 10 short stories published after Jan. 1, 1923 are now part of the public domain, permitting writers and artists to use a majority of the characters and elements without paying a licensing fee to the Doyle estate.

The Seventh Circuit’s three-judge panel appeared no more enamored with Allison’s argument than Castillo did, with U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner characterizing the estate’s position as a “very aggressive attempt to enlarge copyright law.” He said if the appeals court were to accept the estate’s position, it would create an “irresistible temptation” for copyright holders to keep creating variations of early works simply to keep them out of the public domain.

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Former DA investigator pleads guilty to stealing seized 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 former investigator for the Harris County (Texas) District Attorney’s Office pleaded guilty today in federal court to stealing thousands of dollars worth of comic books seized as evidence in a criminal case.

According to the Beaumont Enterprise, 39-year-old Lonnie Blevins admitted he took more than $5,000 worth of vintage comics and sold them at a convention in Chicago. He could face a maximum of 10 years in prison when he’s sentenced Aug. 1, but his attorney is hopeful he’ll instead receive probation for his cooperation.

The case stems from the January 2013 arrest of Anthony Chiofalo, a disbarred New York attorney who somehow landed a job as head of legal affairs at Texas-based Tadano America, where he’s said to have embezzled more than $9 million. He spent a sizable portion of that money on sports memorabilia and vintage comics, including a copy of Detective Comics #27 worth about $900,000.

Blevins was charged in February 2013, about two months after he left the D.A.’s office, following a federal investigation into the disappearance of items, including dozens of comics, seized from Chiofalo’s home and storage units. Blevins’ partner at the office was suspended, and later resigned; however, he hasn’t been charged with any crimes.

Chiofalo was sentenced last week to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to the theft of more than $200,000.

Tokyo restricts sale of erotic manga ‘Younger Sister Paradise 2′

Younger Sister Paradise 2The Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced Monday that it will classify the erotic Younger Sister Paradise 2 as a “harmful publication” to minors, the first time the designation has been made since 2011, when restrictions were tightened on the sale of sexual manga and anime.

According to The Tokyo Reporter, Younger Sister Paradise 2 is Sekizai Mikage’s adaptation of an adult video game about a boy who’s propositioned by his five younger sisters. It was published last month by Kadokawa Shoten.

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Supreme Court to decide next week whether to hear Kirby case

kirby-kirby4heroesThe U.S. Supreme Court will debate in a private conference on May 15 whether to weigh in on the five-year copyright battle between Jack Kirby’s heirs and Marvel/Disney, Deadline reports.

The odds are against the artist’s children, as the Supreme Court receives about 10,000 petitions each year, but hears oral arguments in only about 75 to 80 of those cases. However, if the Justices decide to take up the case, oral argument will be scheduled later this month for the court’s next session.

The Kirby family filed a petition with the high court on March 21 arguing “it is beyond dispute” that the artist’s Marvel output between 1959 and 1963 was not produced as “work for hire” and, therefore, is subject to a clause in the U.S. Copyright Act that permits authors and their heirs to reclaim rights transferred before 1978.

That appeal followed an August decision by the Second Circuit upholding a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s Marvel works were indeed made at the publisher’s “instance and expense” and, therefore, fell under “work for hire.” As such, the courts found, the 45 copyright-termination notices the artist’s heirs filed in 2009 for such characters as the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk were invalid.

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Lawyer who bought comics with embezzled loot sentenced to 40 years

detective comics27An attorney charged with embezzling more than $9 million from his former employer, only to spend much of it on high-priced collectibles like a copy of Detective Comics #27, was sentenced today in Houston to more than 40 years in prison.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Anthony Chiofalo, who landed a job in 2009 as head of legal affairs for Tadano America despite being disbarred in New York, pleaded guilty to the theft of more than $200,000, a first-degree felony. Prosecutors say within a year of being hired, Chiofalo began setting up dummy law firms that charged his employer for litigation work — to the tune of $9.3 million.

They say he used a sizable chunk of the money to purchase sports memorabilia and vintage comic books: When his home and storage units were raided, authorities found a baseball signed by Babe Ruth, a first-edition Playboy, and a copy of Detective Comics #27 worth about $900,000.

The case didn’t stop with Chiofalo, however, as Lonnie Blevins, an investigator with the Harris County’s District Attorney’s office, was later arrested and charged with taking some of those comic books following the raid and selling them to collectors. His case is pending in federal court. According to the newspaper, Blevins’ partner was suspended from the D.A.’s office, and then resigned; he hasn’t been charged.

DC and Marvel take defense of ‘super hero’ trademark to U.K.

business zero to superheroA British author is accusing DC Comics and Marvel of “banning the use of the word superhero” after he received notice that the publishers are opposing his attempt to trademark the title of his advice book Business Zero to Superhero.

“I was very shocked,” Graham Jules told BBC Radio. “I’m a new author and small business, and I’m now in the position of fighting or scrapping the entire book.” The Mail on Sunday picked up on his story, running it with a headline that’s both cliche and misleading: “Zap! You can’t say ‘superhero’.”

As many comics fans know, and Jules quickly learned, DC and Marvel have since 1979 jointly owned the trademark for “super hero” and “super heroes,” covering a range of products, from comic books and playing cards to pencil sharpeners and glue. Their renewal of that mark in 2006 drew widespread attention, as well as scrutiny from those who question whether such a term should be allowed to be registered.

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Jack Kirby’s heirs take Marvel copyright fight to Supreme Court

Jack KirbyClaiming an appeals court “unconstitutionally appropriated” Jack Kirby’s copyrights and gave them to Marvel, the late artist’s heirs have taken their fight with the comics publisher to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a petition filed March 21, and first reported by Law 360, Kirby’s children argue “it is beyond dispute” that the artist’s Marvel work between 1959 and 1963 was not produced as “work for hire” and, therefore, is subject to a clause in the U.S. Copyright Act that permits authors and their heirs to reclaim copyrights transferred before 1978.

The appeal follows an August decision by the Second Circuit upholding a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s Marvel works were indeed made at the “instance and expense” — that term plays a significant role in the heirs’ petition — with the publisher assigning and approving projects and paying a page rate; in short, they were “work for hire.” As such, the courts found, the 45 copyright-termination notices the artist’s heirs filed in 2009 for such characters as the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk were invalid.

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