Less than two weeks after the iconic vehicle from the 1966 Batman television series sold at auction for $4.62 million, a custom carmaker was arguing that a federal judge should dismiss DC Comics’ claims that his Batmobile replicas infringe on the company’s trademarks.
The publisher sued Gotham Garage owner Ben Towle in May 2011, accusing his California-based business of manufacturing and selling unlicensed replicas of the 1966 and 1989 Batmobile (the company also offers a recreation of the TV show’s Batboat). DC seeks a permanent injunction, the destruction of all infringing products and damages of no less than $750,000 for each infringement.
While Towle failed to persuade a judge in February 2012 that the complaint should be thrown out on the grounds that the U.S. Copyright Act affords no protection to “useful articles,” Law360 reports on Wednesday his attorney took a different approach, arguing that DC waited too long to assert its rights.
Publishing | The X-Files is in the headline, but this interview with IDW Publishing Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall covers a lot of ground, including the logistics of continuing a defunct TV franchise as a comic, the standouts among IDW’s young creators, and the challenges of being a comics writer. [Hero Complex]
Publishing | Alvin Lu has left his position as executive vice president of the manga publisher Viz Media. Lu had been at Viz for 13 years and was one of the top executives in the company, reporting directly to CEO Hidemi Fukuhara. [ICv2]
Comics | The graphic novel Metro, once banned in Egypt, is available in Cairo once more. [The Comics Reporter]
Publishing | As the smoke settles around the turmoil at Platinum Studios, it appears that company founder and CEO Scott Rosenberg remains in his position following an attempt by President Chris Beall to unseat him — and it’s Beall instead who’s been voted out. According to Deadline, Beall stands by his claims that Rosenberg has mismanaged Platinum and transferred controlling interest in the company to a shell entity called RIP Media without the approval of shareholders. Rosenberg denies the accusations, including that he controls RIP. The Beat has background on the whole mess. [Deadline]
Passings | Cartoonist Chris Cassatt, one of the contributors to the comic strip Shoe, has passed away following a short illness. He was 66. Cassatt started out in 1993 as the assistant to Shoe creator Jeff MacNelly and worked with him until MacNelly’s death in 2000. After that, he collaborated with Susie MacNelly and Gary Brookins on the strip. In earlier days he was a photographer for the Aspen Times in Colorado and also created a local comic featuring a character named Sal A. Mander whom he had run in actual local elections. “After candidate Sal A. Mander was thrown off the ballot in an Aspen mayoral election on the shaky (in Aspen, anyway) grounds that he was not a ‘real person,’ Cassatt legally changed his name to Sal A. Mander and ran for Colorado governor in 1978, finishing fifth in a six-candidate contest,” the newspaper writes. The following year, he mounted a write-in campaign for Sal against an unpopular district attorney who was running unopposed. He lost, but the ridicule Cassatt’s character heaped on the D.A. during the campaign took its toll, and he didn’t stay in office for long. [Aspen Times]
Legal | Both Warner Bros. and automobile customizer Mark Towle have filed for summary judgment in the studio’s 2011 copyright-infringement lawsuit against Towle, whose Gotham Garage sold several replicas of the Batmobile. Warner, the parent company of DC Comics, claims the design of the Batmobile is its intellectual property, while Towle argues that copyright law does not regard a “useful object,” such as a car, as a sculptural work and therefore the design can’t be copyrighted. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Crime | Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, are investigating the theft of 600 X-Men comics, dating back to the 1970s, from the communal storage area of an apartment building. [Journal Star]
Legal | A federal judge this week made final his Oct. 17 decision that the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster surrendered the ability to reclaim their 50-percent interest in the property in a 1992 agreement with DC Comics, triggering an almost-immediate appeal to the 9th Circuit by Shuster estate lawyer Marc Toberoff. Jeff Trexler delves into the legal strategy behind the attorney’s motion for final judgment. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Legal | Todd McFarlane has settled his lawsuit against former employee Al Simmons, who earlier this year released a book in which he claimed to be the inspiration for Spawn. McFarlane had accused Simmons of violating the terms of his employment pact and breaching his duty of loyalty. Settlement terms weren’t disclosed. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Legal | Disney has filed a motion to dismiss a $5.5 billion copyright-infringement lawsuit filed in October by failed dot-com Stan Lee Media Inc. in its sixth attempt to claim ownership of the Marvel characters co-created by Stan Lee. SLM, which is no longer affiliated with its co-founder and namesake, asserts Lee didn’t properly assign ownership of the works to Marvel, and that Disney didn’t file its Marvel agreement with the U.S. Copyright Office. Disney calls the lawsuit “completely frivolous,” and argues, in part, that the claims have already been litigated and rejected. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Publishing | As final print edition of The Dandy promptly sells out and the venerable U.K. children’s comic migrates online, David Fickling briefly discusses why he launched The Phoenix — a weekly geared for readers ages 6 to 12 — nearly a year ago, and why comics aren’t dead: “Reading comics was always a delight. Reading them under the bedclothes or the desk, even better. Now at last the experts are understanding the importance of reading comics. The loss of reading for pleasure has been identified as one of the principle reasons for falling standards of literacy. Perhaps part of the reason for our disgraceful literacy rates is that we don’t have comics. Comics are a link to books not competition; in short they are a great leveller.” [The Telegraph]
Publishing | The final print edition of the 75-year-old children’s comic The Dandy arrives Tuesday, featuring a cameo by none other than Paul McCartney. When it was announced the publication would move online, McCartney wrote the editors explaining it was his lifelong dream to appear in the comic; tomorrow he’ll be seen along with Desperate Dan. [Daily Mail, Daily Mail]
Passings | Jeff Millar, the co-creator, with Bill Hinds, of the comic strip Tank McNamara, has died at the age of 70. [Houston Chronicle]
Legal | EC Comics writer and editor Al Feldstein and the estate of Mad editor and artist Harvey Kurtzman have taken steps to reclaim the copyright to their early work under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 (the same provision invoked by the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster). Feldstein has already reached an agreement with the William M. Gaines Agency, which holds the rights to Tales from the Crypt and other classic EC comics of the 1950s; the deal will bring him a small amount of money and the freedom to use the art any way he wants in his autobiography. Kurtzman’s people are in the early stages of negotiations with Warner Bros./DC Comics, which holds the rights to Mad magazine. [The Comics Journal]
Graphic novels | BookScan’s Top 20 graphic novels list for October makes for strange bedfellows, with The Walking Dead Compendium Two at No. 1, Chris Ware’s Building Stories at No. 2, and the third volume of Gene Yang’s Avatar: The Last Airbender at No. 3. It’s an interestingly mixed list, with the usual sprinkling of manga (Sailor Moon, Naruto, Bleach), a volume of Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine compilations, and four more volumes of The Walking Dead. And bringing up the rear, at #20, the perennial Watchmen. [ICv2]
The 9th Circuit heard two appeals Tuesday that could decide the bitter 15-year-old legal battle for control of the Man of Steel.
An attorney for DC Comics asked the three-judge panel to reverse a 2008 decision granting the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel his portion of the copyright to Action Comics #1, arguing the family is reneging on a 2001 agreement that would have ensured the company’s ownership of the billion-dollar property.
DC has long argued that Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson walked away from a settlement deal that would’ve allowed the company to retain all rights to Superman in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions. The publisher claims the heirs only withdrew from the settlement after attorney Marc Toberoff entered the picture, falsely asserting he had a $15 million offer for the rights from a billionaire investor (alleged to be Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel). However, a federal judge determined in 2008 that, without a formalized contract, there was no agreement.
Crime | Police in Jackson, Mississippi, have recovered a comic-book collection valued at $19,000, and arrested two suspects in the burglary. [WJTV]
Legal | Gerry Giovinco questions why Marvel and DC Comics zealously defend their intellectual property rights, going so far as to sue a birthday party company that rented out lookalike costumes, but don’t even touch the many porn parodies of their comics that have sprung up in recent years. [CO2 Comics]
Comics | A Florida mother was upset to discover Chick tracts among her children’s trick-or-treat haul, saying the comics are racist and offensive. It’s the second time in as many weeks that the long-controversial evangelical comics have been publicly called out by a displeased parent. [KTNV]
Legal | The lawyer for Jack Kirby’s heirs asked the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday to overturn a 2011 ruling that Marvel owns the copyrights to the characters the late artist co-created for the publisher, arguing that a federal judge misinterpreted the law. Attorney Marc Toberoff, who also represents the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their fight against DC Comics, told a three-judge panel that a freelancer who gets paid only when a publisher likes his work is not, under copyright law, performing work for hire. Marvel countered that Stan Lee’s testimony established Kirby drew the contested works at the publisher’s behest; the Kirby family insists the lower court gave too much credence to Lee’s testimony. Kirby’s children filed 45 notices in 2009 in a bid to terminate their father’s assignment of copyright to characters ranging from the Fantastic Four and the Avengers to Thor and Iron Man under a provision of the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act. However, in July 2011, a judge determined those comics created between 1958 and 1963 were work made for hire and therefore ineligible for copyright termination. [Law360.com]
Handing a major victory to DC Comics, a California federal judge has ruled the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster surrendered the ability to reclaim their 50-percent interest in the property in a 1992 agreement with the publisher.
While the decision likely will be appealed, for now it means DC and parent company Warner Bros. can use the Man of Steel any way they wish beyond Oct. 26, 2013, when the Shuster estate would have recaptured its copyright to the first Superman story in 1938′s Action Comics #1. However, the companies must account for any profits earned from the property with the family of co-creator Jerry Siegel, which reclaimed its share in 2008 through a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act (the scope of that decision is on appeal). Had the Shuster estate succeeded, DC and Warner Bros. eventually would have been unable to use many of the character’s defining aspects, including his secret identity, his origin, certain elements of his costume and powers (super-strength and super-speed), and Lois Lane — barring a new agreement with the families of the two creators, naturally.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright granted DC’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether the Shuster estate’s 2003 copyright-termination notice was invalidated by a 20-year-old agreement with the late artist’s sister Jean Peavy. The publisher had argued the family relinquished all claims to the Man of Steel in 1992 in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” including payment of Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and a $25,000 annual pension for Peavy.
Even as a judge is poised to rule whether the Joe Shuster estate’s bid to reclaim a portion of the Superman rights is valid, DC Comics is accusing the family’s attorney — a longtime legal nemesis of parent company Warner Bros. — of misconduct, and has asked the court to end the case.
Hollywood, Esq. reports the publisher on Wednesday filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing, arguing that attorney Marc Toberoff, who also represents Jerry Siegel’s heirs, “has violated three court orders, submitted four false and misleading declarations, made misrepresentations to the court, bogged down the court for years in his efforts to [hide] the ball, and otherwise subverted DC’s right to a fair search for the truth in both this case and the Siegel case.”
DC is pushing for terminating sanctions, which usually consists of dismissal. Toberoff tells Hollywood, Esq. that the motion is another distraction by the company, which filed a lawsuit in 2010 designed to force him to resign as the Siegels’ attorney.
DC claims that in 2001 Toberoff convinced Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson to walk away from a $3 million deal that would’ve permitted the publisher to retain the rights to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1. Shuster’s nephew Mark Warren Peary also signed with Toberoff, and in 2008 the Siegel family succeeded in reclaiming a portion of the rights through a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act (the case is on appeal); the window opens for the Shuster estate in 2013.
However, DC insists the termination notice filed by Peary in 2003 is invalid, arguing that the estate relinquished all claims to the Man of Steel in 1992 in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” including payment of Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and a $25,000 annual pension for his sister Jean Peavy. But Toberoff asserted last month that DC didn’t intend for the “ambiguous” 1992 document to transfer ownership of the copyright, telling U.S. District Judge Otis Wright that the publisher would never pin the future of “a billion-dollar property” on such an agreement. Wright, who will also consider DC’s latest motion, initially was skeptical but later appeared to recognize logic in Toberoff’s argument.
In addition to terminating sanctions, DC seeks the assignment of a special master to investigate any misconduct.
Undeterred by numerous legal setbacks, failed dot-com Stan Lee Media on Tuesday filed a $5.5 billion copyright-infringement lawsuit against Disney, claiming the entertainment giant doesn’t actually own the Marvel characters featured in such blockbuster films as The Avengers, X-Men: First Class and Thor, and the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The dollar amount reflects the estimated revenue from box-office receipts, licensing and merchandising dating back three years, the statute of limitations for copyright infringement.
The complaint, filed in federal court in Colorado and first reported by Deadline, has its roots in Marvel’s 1998 bankruptcy, when CEO Isaac Perlmutter ended the $1 million-a-year lifetime contract with Stan Lee, negating the legendary writer’s assignment to the company of his rights to his co-creations. It also freed Lee to form Stan Lee Entertainment, which later merged with Stan Lee Media, with infamous entrepreneur Peter F. Paul. 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. Stan Lee Media 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.
Last Friday, Sean Murphy and a host of comic artists and animators joined forces on Twitter for a live chat about exhibiting at conventions, copyright law and the issues of being a working illustrator. Partnered with deviantART, the group included artists Murphy, Eric Canete, Jeff Wamester and Chris Copeland and copyright lawyer Josh Wattles.
The chat came together following Murphy’s blog post “5 Reasons To Write,“ which created quite the fervor in the artist community. DeviantART, who hosts his blog, reached out to Murphy and used that post as a launching pad for the discussion. Although the chat is finished, readers can view it by searching Twiter for “#daChat” and looking at the Sept. 28 tweets.