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Police search Square Enix for evidence of copyright violations

Hi Score GirlThe Osaka police on Tuesday searched the Tokyo offices of game and manga publisher Square Enix as part of an investigation of alleged copyright violations.

The video game company SNK claims the manga Hi Score Girl, by Rensuke Oshihiri, contains more than 100 unauthorized uses of characters from its games, which include King of Fighters and Samurai Spirits. In addition to investigating materials confiscated from Square Enix headquarters and other offices, the police plan to question both Oshihiri and the editor of the series.

Serialized in Big Gangan magazine since 2010, Hi Score Girl is a romantic comedy involving two avid gamers, set during the 1990s 2D gaming boom. The collected editions list the owners of properties referenced in the story, including SNK, with a copyright mark, suggesting permission was given, but when SNK was contacted by a production company that planned to produce an anime adaptation, they determined the use was unauthorized.

SNK sent out a press release early today saying it had asked Square Enix to stop selling the manga but did not receive a “sincere response,” so the company filed criminal charges. The case is being investigated by the Osaka Police’s Consumer and Economic Crime Division.

Ruling leaves San Diego Convention Center expansion in doubt

SDCCEx-feb2013-bayside1

Delivering a crippling blow to the planned $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, a California appeals court ruled Friday that the hotel tax devised to fund most of the project is unconstitutional.

Although hoteliers and city council approved the room surcharge two years ago, U-T San Diego reports the three-judge panel unanimously found that the tax had to be put to a citywide vote. Several groups, including San Diegans for Open Government, opposed the funding scheme, arguing that the arrangement amounted to privatizing the city’s taxing authority. A Superior Court judge sided with the city in March 2013, but opponents appealed the ruling.

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Randy Queen responds to critics with takedown notices, legal threat

darkchyldeDarkchylde creator Randy Queen faces growing online criticism after he filed copyright takedown notices to remove a series of Tumblr posts critical of his work, and then threatened legal action when the blog’s owner publicized his actions.

Operated by Ami Angelwings, Escher Girls is devoted to critiquing the way women are depicted in “illustrated pop media,” including comics. On Saturday, she revealed Queen had sent Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices to Tumblr alleging copyright infringement in nine posts containing his covers. Entire posts, rather than just the images, were removed by the company.

“To date,” she wrote, “Mr. Queen is the only artist who has taken this kind of action” against Escher Girls. She later offered an update, saying the Darkchylde artist had attempted to have that post removed as well.

Queen reportedly followed that with an email to Escher Girls threatening to sue for defamation:

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Judge calls Sherlock Holmes licensing fee ‘a form of extortion’

sherlock holmesIn June, Judge Richard Posner gleefully dismantled the Arthur Conan Doyle estate’s case, and confirmed the bulk of the Sherlock Holmes stories belongs to the public domain. However, it turns out he wasn’t quite finished.

As Hollywood, Esq., reports, today the appellate court judge ordered the estate to pay more than $30,000 in legal fees to author Leslie Klinger — and he took the opportunity to get in a few more licks.

Although 50 Sherlock Holmes stories were released before Jan. 1, 1923, the Doyle estate long insisted that publishers, television networks and film studios pay a licensing fee to use the characters and story elements. Most, including Warner Bros., BBC and CBS, complied, but Klinger — an author, editor and Holmes scholar — refused to pay $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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Disney gets legal fees, judge’s criticism in Stan Lee Media case

disney-marvel-logoA federal judge in Colorado has awarded Disney $239,941 in attorney fees in one of its legal battles with Stan Lee Media over the rights to the Marvel characters co-created by Stan Lee — half of what the entertainment giant was seeking.

Law360 reports that U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez on Thursday admonished Disney’s attorneys for requesting $461,882, which he found “grossly excessive,” while also maintaining that Stan Lee Media was unreasonable in its pursuit of copyright claims after three other courts already determined there was no legal basis for the suit.

“It shocks the court’s conscience that defendants would bill almost half a million dollars, or 900 hours, on a case with minimal discovery that was resolved on a motion to dismiss,” the judge wrote.

It was Martinez who in September granted Disney’s motion, dismissing Stan Lee Media’s 2012 copyright-infringement lawsuit and saying it would be “futile” to permit the failed dot-com — which has had no connection to its co-founder and namesake for more than a decade — to amend its claim.

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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.


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