A federal judge on Thursday dismissed Stan Lee Media’s multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Disney, potentially ending its long and confusing legal battle to claim ownership of the Marvel characters co-created by Stan Lee. The failed dot-com has had no connection to its co-founder and namesake in more than a decade; in fact, the two have sued each other on a few occasions.
As Deadline reports, in granting Disney’s motion to dismiss the 2012 copyright-infringement complaint, U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez didn’t attempt to hide his annoyance with the litigious Stan Lee Media, whose tangled web of lawsuits began it at least 2007, just months after the company emerged from federal bankruptcy protection.
“Plaintiff has tried time and again to claim ownership of those copyrights; the litigation history arising out of the 1998 Agreement stretches over more than a decade and at least six courts,” Martinez wrote in his 11-page order. “Taking its cue from the Southern District of New York and the Central District of California, this Court holds that Plaintiff is precluded from re-litigating the issue of its ownership of copyrights based on the 1998 Agreement …” He said it would be “futile” to permit Stan Lee Media to amend the lawsuit.
Thirteen years after his original arrest on child-molestation charges, DragonCon co-found Ed Kramer is at last heading to trial. Or, at least he has a trial date.
The Gwinnett (Georgia) Daily Post reports that following a two-and-a-half-hour hearing on Monday, Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Karen Beyers added the Kramer case to the judicial calendar for the weeks of Dec. 2 and 9 — and according to Kramer’s attorney McNeill Stokes, his client “wants to go to trial.”
Kramer was originally arrested on charges of molesting three teenage boys between 1996 and 2000, but the trial has been repeatedly delayed since his 2003 indictment through legal maneuverings and claims of declining health, which at one point apparently required the attention of 16 physicians. He was first released on bond in November 2000, less than three months after his arrest, but he was back in jail within days when a neighbor reported seeing a teenage boy enter his home.
Following claims of a January 2001 assault by a deputy, Kramer was placed on house arrest, an order later modified to permit travel between Georgia and New Jersey or New York to receive medical treatments and visit his ailing mother. Under the conditions of the bond, he was to report his weekly location and not have any unsupervised contact with children under the age of 16. However, in September 2011, he was arrested in Connecticut after he allegedly was found alone in a hotel room with a 14-year-old boy. He was extradited back to Georgia in January 2013 to face six counts of child molestation.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals handed Marvel a significant victory this morning, upholding a 2011 ruling that Jack Kirby’s contributions to the publisher in the 1960s were work for hire, and therefore not subject to copyright reclamation by the artist’s heirs.
However, as Tom Spurgeon first reported, the appellate court vacated the New York district judge’s summary ruling against two of Kirby’s children, California residents Lisa and Neal, on jurisdictional grounds; the judgment against Susan and Barbara stands.
Secondarily, the Second Circuit upheld the lower court’s exclusion of expert testimony offered by John Morrow and Mark Evanier on behalf of the Kirby heirs, agreeing that “their reports are by and large undergirded by hearsay statements, made by freelance artists in both formal and informal settings, concerning Marvel’s general practices towards its artists during the relevant time period.”
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.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest made the order a little more than two weeks after the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her 2011 decision rejecting Friedrich’s claims that the copyright to the Spirit of Vengeance reverted to him a decade earlier. According to Deadline, Marvel’s lawyers indicated Thursday in a conference meeting that they won’t challenge the appeals court ruling, and will file a motion for a jury trial.
Friedrich, long credited as co-creator of the character with Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog, filed the lawsuit in April 2007, shortly after the release of Columbia Pictures’ Ghost Rider movie, accusing the studio, Marvel, Hasbro and other companies of copyright infringement, false advertising and unfair competition, among other counts. The film grossed $228 million worldwide; the 2012 sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, earned $132.5 million.
Mattel hopes it has the power to tamp down claims by writer Donald Glut that he has a copyright stake in the original Masters of the Universe minicomics packaged with the action-figure line three decades ago.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in Los Angeles, and first reported by Courthouse News Service, the toymaker seeks a declaration that it is the sole owner of the lucrative multimedia franchise, asserting that Glut’s four stories were work for hire. Mattel refers to the writer’s claims of ownership as “both baseless and stale,” insisting the statute of limitations long ago expired.
According to the complaint, Glut was commissioned in 1981 to write “He-Man and the Power Sword,” “The Vengeance of Skeletor,” “Battle in the Clouds” and “King of Castle Grayskull” and to create backstories for He-Man and other characters under the direction of the toymaker (“Mattel told Glut what the toys could do and directed him to have the characters in the minicomics do these things as much as possible,” the document states). The company notes the writer acknowledged as recently as 2001 that the minicomics were work for hire for which he received neither credit nor royalties.
Despite a series of seemingly definitive decisions in DC Comics’ favor, the nearly decade-long legal fight over the rights to Superman continues, with the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster asking an appeals court just three weeks ago to overturn a ruling barring the family from reclaiming the artist’s stake in the Man of Steel. At the center of the battle is tenacious and controversial attorney Marc Toberoff, the longtime nemesis of Warner Bros. who represents the heirs of Shuster and his collaborator Jerry Siegel.
He’s the subject of a lengthy feature in the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, in which he pledges he’ll take the Superman dispute to the Supreme Court, if necessary. “This case is by no means over,” he tells the magazine. “My clients and I are prepared to go the distance.” It’s an interesting article that’s part history lesson and part personality profile, with several tidbits (of varying importance) that I can’t recall seeing previously:
If you thought the nearly decade-long legal battle for the rights to the Man of Steel had come to an end last month, think again: On Thursday, the attorney for the Joe Shuster estate asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn an October ruling that the family was prevented from reclaiming the artist’s stake in Superman by a 20-year-old agreement with DC Comics.
At issue is a 1992 deal in which the 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. On Oct. 17, 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 9th 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, effectively granting DC full ownership of the character.
An Australian federal court has ruled a Melbourne fitness service cannot register the trademark “Superman Workout,” finding the company made the application in bad faith.
DC Comics had appealed a July decision by the registrar of trademarks that Cheqout Pty’s use of “Superman Workout” was unlikely to deceive or confuse consumers, or lead a significant number of people to presume there’s a connection between the fitness classes and the publisher.
Warner Bros. Television and the co-creators of Smallville have settled a multimillion-dollar dispute concerning profits from the long-running television series. The agreement was announced Monday during a status hearing, but Hollywood Esq. reports no paperwork has been signed.
Series creators and executive producers Miles Millar and Alfred Gough and series producers Tollin/Robbins Productions sued WBTV in 2010, accusing the company of licensing Smallville to its co-owned WB and CW networks “for unreasonably low” fees, thereby cutting the plaintiffs out of tens of millions of dollars.
Paraphrasing Lucy van Pelt, a California judge on Wednesday sentenced the original voice of Charlie Brown to a year in jail for threatening his ex-girlfriend and stalking her plastic surgeon, and then released to a residential drug-treatment facility.
Handing down an additional five-year probation and an order to pay $15,000 in restitution, Superior Court Judge Dwayne Moring cautioned former actor Peter Robbins, “If I can borrow a line from Peanuts, sir, I’m going to grant [you] probation. If you adhere to those terms, you won’t go to prison. So, don’t be a blockhead.”
Three men who concocted a Ponzi scheme while in prison are heading back behind bars for bilking investors out of $3.6 million in a fraudulent business that dealt with comic book and film rights.
CBS Chicago reports 62-year-old Daniel Parrilli, 48-year-old John Lauer and 57-year-old Christopher Anderson were sentenced last week in federal court after pleading guilty to the fraud charges brought against them in 2010. Anderson, the lead defendant, is set to serve 95 months in prison; Parrilli was sentenced to 70 months, while Lauer received a 31-month term.
According to Patch.com, upon on their release from a minimum-security prison in Oxford, Wisconsin, Andersen and Parrilli opened Sundown Entertainment, a business that purported to buy and sell film and comic book rights. Together, they raised more than $7 million from about 150 investors. Lauer later entered the picture to offer false assurances to victims, some of whom prosecutors say “depleted their 401K funds or their college savings, or took out loans against their homes in order to invest with the defendants.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ed Kohler said that while some comics and movies were actually produced, the con men weren’t able to repay the outlandishly high returns promised to investors — as much as 150 percent within days, in some instances — and the scheme began to collapse.
Parilli, who begins serving his sentence Aug. 1, was ordered to pay more than $3.6 million in restitution, while Lauer must pay $457,367 and surrender June 12. Anderson, who’s already serving his sentence, must pay $3.7 million.
A judge in Georgia today denied bond to Ed Kramer, the DragonCon co-founder who faces child molestation accusations dating back nearly 13 years.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Karen E. Beyers determined the 52-year-old Kramer, who was arrested in September 2011 on charges of violating his bond, might not adhere to the conditions of the order.
Kramer was originally arrested on charges of molesting three teenage boys between 1996 and 2000, but the trial has been repeatedly delayed since his 2003 indictment through legal maneuverings and claims of declining health, which at point point apparently required the attention of 16 physicians. He was first released on bond in November 2000, less than three months after his arrest, but he was back in jail within days when a neighbor reported seeing a teenage boy enter his home.
The New York Daily News casts a spotlight on Ray Felix, the small-press publisher who’s challenging the joint claim of DC Comics and Marvel to the “super hero” trademark, and comes away with some interesting details:
- The two publishers have prevented at least 35 people from using “super hero,” or some variation, since they were granted the mark in 1980 for toys and in 1981 for comic books. (You may remember that in 2004 GeekPunk changed the name of its series Super Hero Happy Hour to Hero Happy Hour following objections by DC and Marvel.)
- Although Felix admits he’s unlikely to win his case before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property tells the newspaper that Marvel and DC’s joint ownership “violates the basic tenet of trademark law.” “A trademark stands for a single source of origin, not two possible sources of origin,” Ron Coleman argues. “If the public understands that the word ‘superhero’ could come from A or B, then by definition that’s a word and not a trademark.”
- Even if the appeal board were to find in Felix’s favor, it would only mean he can retain his registration for his series A World Without Superheroes. Revocation of Marvel and DC’s trademark would require a costly civil lawsuit.
Felix’s dispute with the comics giants dates back to September 2010, when he received a cease-and-desist letter after registering a trademark for his series. Following more a year and a half of exchanges between Felix and the companies’ attorneys, DC Comics and Marvel Characters Inc. in March 2012 filed a formal opposition with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
Even as Cleveland’s mayor proclaimed April 18 “Superman Day” to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the release of Action Comics #1, a federal judge effectively brought to an end the lengthy legal battle for the rights to the Man of Steel.
Deadline reports that on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright granted summary judgment to DC Comics, declaring that a 2001 agreement with the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel included the rights to Superboy and advertisements for Action Comics #1. Those two issues had been left unresolved in a January decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturning a 2008 ruling that the family had successfully reclaimed a portion of Siegel’s copyright to the first Superman story under a provision of the 1976 Copyright Act.