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Comics A.M. | Batmobile copyright fight heading back to court

A Batmobile replica from Gotham Garage

A Batmobile replica from Gotham Garage

Legal | Eriq Gardner delves into the issues underlying the continuing legal battle over unauthorized replicas of the Batmobile from the 1966 Batman television series and the 1989 film: This summer the Ninth Circuit will consider the appeal of Gotham Garage owner Mark Towle, whose Batmobile replicas were found in February 2013 to violate DC Comics’ copyrights and trademarks. While Towle argues that Batman’s ride is a “useful article,” meaning a utilitarian object not protected by U.S. copyright law, a federal judge ruled the Batmobile is “a copyrightable character.” Gardner notes that if the appeals court sides with DC/Warner Bros., “Hollywood studios would win a powerful weapon to stop products that are similar to props like light sabers and ruby slippers.” [The Hollywood Reporter]

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Comics A.M. | Two Japanese men arrested for uploading manga

Gin Tama

Gin Tama

Legal | The Hiroshima, Japan, police arrested a 36-year-old man on Monday for illegally uploading the manga series Gin Tama to the Internet; he was charged with copyright infringement. This comes just a few days after the arrest of another unemployed man for uploading a volume of Berserk. In both cases, the publisher and the creator of the manga involved have sued the suspects. [Crunchyroll]

Creators | Batman writer Scott Snyder talks about the women of Gotham City. [Comicosity]

Creators | In the first part of a two-part interview conducted at WonderCon, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick discusses how she grew up reading comics in the 1970s, her work for Tokyopop and Marvel, and what Carol Danvers means to her fans. [Toucan]

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Stan Lee Media steps into licensing dispute, sues Disney

marvel superheroes

Continuing its long, and so far wholly unsuccessful, fight for ownership of many of Marvel’s best-known characters, the tenacious Stan Lee Media has sued a Walt Disney Co. subsidiary, seeking to join a dispute about licensing Spider-Man for the stage.

In September, Disney Enterprises, Marvel and Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. sued Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based American Music Theatre, saying it violated copyrights and trademarks by using elements of Spider-Man, Mary Poppins and The Lion King in its musical revue Broadway: Now and Forever (Disney and Mackintosh jointly hold the copyright to the Mary Poppins stage production). The theater responded in November with the surprising claim that Disney doesn’t own Spider-Man. Instead, the counterclaim stated, the character belongs to Stan Lee Media, which licensed the rights to the American Music Theatre.

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Quote of the Day | Peter Gross on Shia LaBeouf and copyright

unwritten-apocalypse1“I think it’s very interesting that you bring up Shia because I just brought him up to Mike [Carey] the other day. I was proposing that we introduce a character based on him, because he does crystallize a lot of what we talk about. We’ve had a lot of discussion about whether copyright is a good thing or a horrible thing. What would happen if Superman was copyright-free? And people could add onto his story? Maybe we would end up with incredibly powerful stories that add a whole dimension of life to our existence because they would be able to build in a way that they can’t build otherwise. I don’t know. On the other hand, I want to get paid for what I do. [...] I think we should write to Shia and his people for permission to use him and his likeness in our story. If they said ‘No,’ it would bring up a lot of interesting issues. Wouldn’t it?”

The Unwritten co-creator Peter Gross, commenting on Shia LaBeouf, the public domain and storytelling, in an interview with Comic Book Resources

 

Shuster estate’s case may be over, but Superman fight continues

Superman Unchained #1

Superman Unchained #1

Although an appeals court seems to have brought to an end the Joe Shuster estate’s bid to reclaim the artist’s stake in Superman, The Hollywood Reporter reminds us that the fight by Jerry Siegel’s heirs is far from over.

According to the website, attorney Marc Toberoff — he represents both families — is scheduled to file a brief next month on a pending appeal of a March 2013 ruling that affirmed the writer’s family relinquished any claims to the Man of Steel by accepting a 2001 offer from DC Comics that permits the publisher to retain all rights to Superman (as well as Superboy and The Spectre) in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions.

Toberoff maintains the Siegels never accepted the DC offer (the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found otherwise), but even if there was a contract, then the publisher failed to perform. That explains the addition last year of the line “By Special Arrangement with the Jerry Siegel Family” to the credits of any DC title featuring Superman, a stipulation of the 2001 agreement.

However, Wright noted that breach-of-contract claims are a matter for state court, and don’t affect the enforceability of the 2001 agreement. So, a separate lawsuit remains an option for the Siegels, even if — or perhaps when — they exhaust their copyright case.

As The Hollywood Reporter points out, while the Siegel heirs still face “incredibly long odds,” their fight isn’t over yet.

Appeals court denies Shuster heirs rehearing in Superman battle

From Action Comics #1

From Action Comics #1

In the latest — and, quite possibly, final — legal blow to the estate of Joe Shuster, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a petition for a rehearing of its November decision that effectively brought to an end what a three-judge panel described as “the long-running saga regarding the ownership of copyrights in Superman — a story almost as old as the Man of Steel himself.”

Deadline reports that the one-page order closes the door to any more petitions for rehearing before the Ninth Circuit, leaving the Supreme Court as the only option left to attorney Marc Toberoff, who last year pledged, “My clients and I are prepared to go the distance.”

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Comics A.M. | Case of Sherlock Holmes rights isn’t over just yet

Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon #2

Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon #2

Legal | As the dust begins to settle on the ruling last month by a federal judge that Arthur Conan Doyle’s first 50 Sherlock Holmes stories have lapsed into the public domain in the United States, out march the analyses pointing out the buts. Chief among them, of course, is the possibility of appeal by the Conan Doyle estate, which contends the characters were effectively incomplete until the author’s final story was published in the United States (the 10 stories published after Jan. 1, 1923, remain under copyright in this country until 2022).

However, Publishers Weekly notes that because U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo didn’t rule directly on that “novel” argument, the estate may be satisfied with the ambiguity of the decision, given that uncertain creators still may seek to license the characters to steer clear of any trouble. Estate lawyer Benjamin Allison also insists that the Sherlock Holmes trademarks remain unaffected, an assertion that puzzles author and scholar Leslie Klinger, who brought the lawsuit. “There is a very good reason why the Estate did not assert trademark protection: The Estate does not own any trademarks,” he told PW. “They have applied for them, and there will be substantial opposition.” There’s more at NPR, The Independent and The Atlantic. [Publishers Weekly]

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LaBeouf takes another swipe at Clowes, proudly posts C&D letter

LaBeouf's purported storyboards for "Daniel Boring"

LaBeouf’s purported storyboards for “Daniel Boring”

After last week hiring a skywriter to pen an apology to Daniel Clowes, Shia LaBeouf appeared to bait the cartoonist Tuesday on Twitter with a photo of the “Storyboard for my next short ‘Daniel Boring,'” an obvious reference to both Clowes’ Eightball serial “David Boring” and the actor’s seemingly unending plagiarism controversy.

But while LaBeouf didn’t get a rise out of Clowes, he did receive a cease-and-desist letter from the cartoonist’s attorney — which the actor promptly posted on the social media platform.

After pointing out that the storyboard drawings are copied from “David Boring,” Clowes’ attorney Michael J. Kump notes that, “if the foregoing isn’t outrageous enough conduct by your client, Mr. LaBeouf in his tweet today plagiarized Mr. Clowes’ own description of ‘David Boring'” as “it’s like Fassbinder meets half-baked Nabokov on Gilligan’s Island.” (Also worth noting: The photos fanned out beneath the drawing are of actors Patton Oswalt and Seth Rogen, who recently mocked LaBeouf’s ongoing Twitter apologies.)

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Comics A.M. | Image has impressive December in bookstores

The Walking Dead, Vol. 19

The Walking Dead, Vol. 19

Graphic novels | Image Comics had a strong December in bookstores, snagging nine slots on BookScan’s Top 20 chart: Eight volumes of The Walking Dead (including the very first one, at No. 4), plus the first Saga collection, which was originally released in October 2012. The first two volumes of Attack on Titan, which are more than a year old, were also on the chart. [ICv2]

Legal | Colleen R. LaRose, aka “Jihad Jane,” was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for her role in a failed conspiracy to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who drew images of the Prophet Mohammed that offended many Muslims. [The New York Times]

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Comics A.M. | Judge rules Sherlock Holmes is in public domain

Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon #4

Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon #4

Legal | In a decision that will undoubtedly usher in more Holmes and Watson novels, comic books, movies and television, a federal judge has issued a declarative judgment that the elements included in the 50 Sherlock Holmes stories published by Arthur Conan Doyle before Jan. 1, 1923 are in the public domain in the United States. That means creators are free to use the characters and elements from those stories (but not from the 10 published after 1923) without paying a licensing fee to the protective Arthur Conan Doyle Estate Ltd.

The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit filed early this year by Leslie Klinger, who served as an adviser on director Guy Ritchie’s two Sherlock Holmes films and with Laurie R. King edited In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of new stories written by different authors. Although Klinger and King had paid a $5,000 licensing fee for a previous Holmes-inspired collection, their publisher received a letter from the Conan Doyle estate demanding another fee; in response, Klinger sued. [The New York Times]

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Shuster heirs seek a rehearing of Superman copyright appeal

Action Comics #1

Action Comics #1

As expected, the attorney for the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster has asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for a rehearing of last month’s ruling that reaffirmed the artist’s estate can’t reclaim his copyright stake in the Man of Steel.

The Ninth Circuit upheld in a 2-1 opinion an October 2012 ruling by a lower court that the Shuster family relinquished all claims to the character in a 1992 agreement with DC Comics 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. U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright had found the agreement invalidated a copyright-termination notice filed in 2003 by Shuster’s nephew Mark Peary.

But in a petition filed Tuesday, and first reported by Deadline, attorney Marc Toberoff insists the Nov. 21 opinion warrants a rehearing by either the three-judge panel or the Ninth Circuit’s full bench “because it contravenes Congress’ clear objectives, and this Court’s carefully-circumscribed decisions.”

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Stan Lee Media takes another stab at Marvel character rights

Spider-manSay what you will about the shareholders of Stan Lee Media, but despite suffering one loss after another in their decade-long battle for the rights to Marvel’s best-known characters, they’re still unwilling to concede defeat.

In papers filed Tuesday in federal court in Philadelphia, and first reported by Deadline, the failed dot-com now seeks a declaratory judgment that it, and not Disney or Marvel, owns Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, Thor and other superheroes.

The move, which comes just three months after an annoyed federal judge dismissed their multibillion-dollar claim against Disney, springs from a lawsuit filed in September by the media giant against the American Music Theatre, which is accused of using elements of Spider-Man, Mary Poppins and The Lion King in a stage revue without permission. In a surprise twist, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based theater responded last month that it has a license to use Spider-Man and numerous other Marvel heroes — through an exclusive agreement with Stan Lee Media. Somewhat conveniently, American Music Theatre filed a third-party counterclaim against Stan Lee Media, opening the door for Tuesday’s filing.

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Ohio state worker downloaded thousands of comics, movies with government computers

From the inspector general's report

From the inspector general’s report

An employee of the Ohio Department of Health has reportedly confessed to illegally downloading, television series and more than 30,000 comic books from torrent sites to state computers.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Edward Jones Jr., who has worked in information technology for the agency since 1992, admitted to the activity during an investigation by the inspector general’s office initiated last year after an allegation by media giant Viacom that copyrighted material had been downloaded using a state IP address.

According to the inspector general’s report, Jones initially suggested that Viacom might have simply detected him downloading “suspicious programs” or viruses to an unauthorized third computer for analysis as part of his job. Shortly after that first interview, in April 2012, Jones reportedly attempted to delete more than 5,000 files from the computer and an external hard drive; investigators were later able to recover those video and comic book files. They also determined that Jones was a member of several torrenting websites, where he both downloaded and uploading files.

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Appeals court refuses rehearing in Jack Kirby copyright battle

Fantastic FourWith just nine words — “It is hereby ordered that the petition is denied” — the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday seemingly ended a four-year effort by the children of Jack Kirby to gain a copyright stake in many of the characters their father created or co-created for Marvel.

As Deadline reports, the Kirby heirs had petitioned for rehearing, either before a panel of the Second Circuit or the full bench of judges, of whether they had the right to file 45 copyright-termination notices in 2009 for some of Marvel’s best-known, and most lucrative, characters, including the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk.

Quickly responding to those notices, Marvel (later joined by then-new parent company Disney) sued to invalidate the heirs’ claims, arguing that Kirby’s creations for the publisher were work for hire, made at the company’s direction and expense, and therefore weren’t eligible for copyright termination. A federal judge agreed, ruling in July 2011 that, as works for hire, the copyrights to those characters belong to Marvel.

The Kirby family appealed, but in August 2013 a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit upheld the district court’s decision, reaffirming that the heirs had no termination rights. The judges also 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.”

Grumpy Cat made off (and made money) with Kate Beaton’s joke

grumpy catOn an Internet whisker-deep in cat photos, cat videos and cat memes, Grumpy Cat is the indisputable king — or, rather, queen, as the peevish feline is actually a female named Tardar Sauce. She has her own meme manager, her own book, her own book tour, a litter-pan full of web awards, a movie deal and a company valued at $1 million.

Out of all of that, strangely enough, “meme manager” may give the most pause. (Or is that paws?) Ben Lashes, former frontman for the band Lashes, is profiled, along with his client, in the latest issue of New York magazine, where we learn how he transformed Grumpy Cat from a single link into a furry little industry. (Did we mention the Friskies deal, the coffee line, the plush toys and the T-shirts?)

Among the most popular shirts, Gawker points out, is one that combines a photo of Grumpy Cat with the caption “I HAD FUN ONCE/IT WAS AWFUL,” which, after a stop off at Reddit, where it became attached to the feline, actually originated with cartoonist Kate Beaton’s popular webcomic Hark! A Vagrant! Gawker, which concluded that the best way to get rich from memes is to “steal other memes,” contacted Beaton for her take.

“No, I never authorized anything. And some people will argue that I never wrote the joke, that it’s ‘been around forever,’ she tells the website. “But I made a comic, and one panel became a meme, and that’s fine. The nature of a joke is to take on a life of its own. At some point, the meme was applied to Grumpy Cat, where it fit well. It is only how Grumpy Cat is aggressive about protecting their brand with that joke as part of it that has ever rubbed me the wrong way.”

Indeed, the New York article makes a point of how diligently the people making money from Grumpy Cat police uses of her likeness. “No one’s a chump,” Lashes tells the magazine. “We’ve got a saying over here in team meme: ‘Respect the cat.’ ”

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