legal Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
Legal | A South Korea court has ruled an exhibition devoted to One Piece can be held as planned after it was abruptly canceled earlier this month following allegations that Eiichiro Oda’s popular pirate manga contains images that resemble the Rising Sun flag, considered a symbol of Japanese imperialism in South Korea. The company staging the One Piece show, which includes life-sized statues, rare figures and Oda’s sketches, asked the court to step in after the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul pulled the plug on the event just days before its scheduled July 12 opening. The court found that One Piece can’t be considered to “[hail] Japanese imperialism” simply because it depicts a flag reminiscent of the Rising Sun; and even if those images are of the Rising Sun flag, it’s mainly shown in a negative light. [The Asahi Shimbun]
Unfortunately 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.
Editorial cartoons | The public-relations consultant hired by the city of Murrieta, California, after residents protested the arrival of refugee children to be processed there, told cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz that referring to Murietta as “Hate City USA” was “actionable.” “There IS a fine line between your constitutional right to draw cartoons and expressed (sic) your opinions,” Hermosillo wrote in a comment on Alcaraz’s Facebook page, “and falsely, deliberately, and maliciously labeling and attacking an entire community as racist or as ‘Hate City.’ You are working overtime to damage Murrieta and such a false premise is actionable. There’s a fine line between humor and stupidity. You may have crossed that line at your own peril.” Murrieta spokesperson Kim Davidson walked that back, however, saying the city has no plans to sue Alcaraz. [The Press Enterprise]
Marvel 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.
Legal | At the request of a state-owned distributor, the Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor is investigating charges that Marvel comics are “propaganda of a cult of violence,” specifically, violence against Russian targets. The agency will review Avengers #1, due out in Russia in August, “regarding the use of Soviet symbols, the presentation of the characters as Russian service personnel, and the incitement of violence and cruelty,” according to the the Russian Legal Information Agency. This seems to be about the Winter Guard and specifically about Vanguard, who wears a hammer-and-sickle logo; the European publisher, Egmont, plans to remove the logo for the Russian release. Roskomnadzor has the option of issuing an official warning; a publisher who gets two of these in a year may have its license revoked. [CNET]
Legal | DragonCon co-founder Ed Kramer, who entered a plea deal in December to avoid more jail time on child molestation charges that date back to 2000, could find himself back behind bars for his use of social media. Kramer, who’s no longer associated with DragonCon, ended years of legal wrangling with an Alford plea that, among other stipulations, barred him from having any direct or indirect contact with anyone under the age of 16. A registered sex offender, Kramer set up a Twitter account under his real name in 2011, but didn’t do much with it until a couple of weeks ago, when he suddenly became active and began following people — including a 14-year-old girl. His Google+ page also shows a connection with the then-14-year-old boy he was charged with molesting. Kramer lists his address as Brooklyn on his social media accounts, but he apparently is still in Georgia. The Gwinnett County district attorney is investigating; a violation of the plea agreement could result in a 60-year prison sentence, 20 years for each of the three counts of child molestation. Heidi MacDonald has more at The Beat. [Gwinnett Daily Post]
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.
Ahead of Banned Books Week, which this year will focus on comics and graphic novels, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has unveiled its first Banned Books Week Handbook, featuring a cover by Jeff Smith, whose critically acclaimed fantasy adventure Bone was listed among the most frequently challenged titles of 2013.
Debuting today at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, the free guide provides an overview frequently challenged comics, and offers tips for readers on how to report and fight censorship and suggestions for librarians, retailers and educators for planning Banned Books Week celebrations.
A PDF of the handbook can be downloaded here; bundles of the printed edition can be ordered on the CBLDF website or through Diamond Comic Distributors.
The organization has also released the first of its discussion guides, designed to begin conversations, and address concerns and misconceptions, about specific comics, including Fun Home, Persepolis and Watchmen.
Banned Books Week is scheduled for Sept. 21-27.
Comic strips | The art from cartoonist Bill Watterson’s surprise return to the comics page earlier this month for a three-day stint on Pearls Before Swine will be auctioned Aug. 8 on behalf of Team Cul de Sac, the charity founded by Chris Sparks to honor Cul de Sac creator Richard Thompson, who has Parkinson’s disease. The proceeds benefiting The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. A painting by Watterson of one of Thompson’s characters sold in 2012 for $13,000 as part of a benefit auction for Team Cul de Sac. [Team Cul de Sac]
Creators | The tech news site Pando has fired cartoonist Ted Rall, just a month after hiring him, along with journalist David Sirota. While Rall wouldn’t comment on the reason for his dismissal, he did say the news came “really truly out of a clear blue sky. I literally never got anything but A++ reviews,” and he added that editor Paul Carr gave him complete editorial freedom. While Valleywag writer Nitasha Tiku speculates that the two had rubbed investors the wrong way, Carr disputes that, as well as other assertions in the article. Nonetheless, both Rall and Sirota confirmed they were let go. [Valleywag]
Three 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.”
In 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.
Crime | A successful weekend at Denver Comic Con turned sour for Zac and Mindy Conley, the owners of The Hall of Justice art gallery, after a thief stole a cash box containing their proceeds from the show, about $1,000, and some special orders for Mindy Conley’s artwork, which would have earned the couple another $1,500. The Conleys say they were planning to use the money for rent for their home and studio and the payment for their booth at next year’s Denver Comic Con. “We’ve been fighting to turn this place into some really cool. And every month we’re wondering if we’re going to survive,” Zac said. However, friends are rallying around: Illustrator Drew Litton, who will be showing his work at the gallery next month, will donate a portion of the proceeds to the Conleys, and gifts are also coming in through their Facebook page. [The Denver Post]
Legal | Turkish cartoonist Mehmet Düzenli began serving a three-month sentence this week on charges of insulting Muslim preacher Adnan Oktar, who espouses controversial views, such as creationism and Holocaust denial. Oktar sued Düzenli over a cartoon about him, and Düzenli refused to appeal the sentence on the grounds that even if it were suspended, he still would not be able to express himself freely. “If Mr. Oktar has the right to claim that he is the Mahdi [the redeemer who is supposed to appear at the ‘end times’], I have the right to say that he is lying,” he said. [Reporters Without Borders]
Comics sales | ICv2 has sales estimates for the direct market in May, which was a good month for chart-toppers, with four titles selling more than 100,000 copies, compared to just one in each of the first three months of the year. The top seller was Marvel’s Original Sin #1, at 147,045 copies, but ICv2 notes that sales were juiced by incentives, including variant covers and a plastic eyeball, and that orders for the second issue are considerably lower. They also give the top 400 comics and the top 300 graphic novels charts for the month. [ICv2]
In 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.
Retailing | Image Comics took seven of the Top 20 spots on Nielsen BookScan’s list of graphic novels sold in bookstores in May, with multiple volumes of Saga and The Walking Dead once again appearing, joined by the first collection of Sex Criminals. Kodansha Comics took six spots, with the most recent volume of Attack on Titan at the top of the chart, followed by the first volume. Four more volumes were scattered around the list. Legendary’s Godzilla movie tie-in, Godzilla: Awakening, placed at No. 3. [ICv2]
Legal | The Japanese legislature has moved forward with a bill that would criminalize possession of child pornography, which is expected to pass the Diet before it recesses on June 22. The new law would ban photos and videos made using real children but excludes manga and anime. [The Japan Times]