Say 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.
Legal | Asterix co-creator Albert Uderzo has filed a legal complaint against his daughter Sylvie and her husband Bernard Choisy, claiming “psychological violence.” The dispute began in 2007, when Sylvie and Bernard were dismissed from their positions at Les Éditions Albert René, which published Asterix; a year later, Uderzo sold his stake in the company to Hachette Livre. The two filed their own legal challenge in 2011, claiming Uderzo, who is now 86, was being exploited by others. In this week’s filing, Uderzo says he is perfectly capable of managing his own affairs, and adds, “The sole purpose of these acts is to undermine our psychological integrity and to hasten our debility, in order to get their hands on our legacy, which they covet.” [The Guardian]
Just ahead of Ed Kramer’s trial on 13-year-old child-molestation charges, DragonCon has announced a settlement that officially severs all ties with its litigious co-founder.
The board of the popular Atlanta sci-fi/fantasy convention revealed in July, amid a boycott effort, that it had offered to buy out Kramer’s shares in a merger — his attorney called it a “discriminatory squeeze-out” — in which a new company called Dragon Con Inc. absorbed the old DragonCon/Ace Inc. Kramer initially rejected the offer, which led the board to sue him in August; DragonCon spokesman Greg Euston told Atlanta magazine the out-of-court settlement calls for Kramer to be paid a “small amount over” what the company had offered.
Kramer, who helped found DragonCon a quarter-century ago, hasn’t been directly associated with the event since his arrest in August 2000 on charges of sexually abusing two teenage boys (a third later stepped forward). However, he continued to receive annual dividends from DragonCon — $154,000 for 2011 alone — after attempts to buy out Kramer’s stake in the for-profit corporation proved unsuccessful. He filed two lawsuits against co-founder Pat Henry and DragonCon/ACE, and rebuffed three previous offers to buy out his shares for $500,000, in 2004, 2006 and 2008.
Legal | Artist Al Plastino has asked a New York judge to order Heritage Auctions to reveal the name of the consignor who put up for sale his original art for the 10-page story “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy.” Heritage says the sale has been canceled and the art returned to the consignor, who bought it at a Sotheby’s auction a decade ago. The JFK story was originally scheduled to run in a DC comic dated November 1963, but it was quickly pulled when Kennedy was assassinated. The story was published the following year at the request of the Johnson administration. The last panel of the comic stated the artwork was to be donated to the Kennedy Library, and Plastino believed that to be the case until this fall, when he discovered it was being put up for auction. [Reuters]
Crime | Tokyo police say they have security camera footage of a suspicious man in a mask and gloves near a convenience store where a small amount of nicotine was found in a Kuroko’s Basketball-themed snack. The snacks were recalled after 7-Eleven and other convenience store chains received threatening letters, part of a barrage of threat letters that have been sent out to venues associated with the Kuroko’s Basketball manga and anime. The amount of nicotine found in the Kuroko’s Basketball wafers was well under a lethal dose. [Anime News Network]
Although the attorney representing the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had vowed they were “prepared to go the distance” in their legal battle with DC Comics, they appear to have reached the end of the road. Of course, that’s been said a few times before.
As Deadline reports, in a 2-1 vote the Ninth Circuit on Thursday tied up the loose ends in what it describes as “the long-running saga regarding the ownership of copyrights in Superman — a story almost as old as the Man of Steel himself,” reaffirming an October 2012 ruling that the Shuster estate is prevented from reclaiming the artist’s stake in the character by a 20-year-old agreement with DC.
“We are obviously very pleased with the court’s decision,” DC’s parent company Warner Bros. said in a statement.
That lower-court decision, which was appealed in May, dealt with a 1992 deal in which the Shuster estate relinquished all claims to Superman 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, 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.
The Malaysian cartoonist Zunar describes his government’s attempts to silence him, and proclaims his determination not to be silenced, in a column on the news site Malaysiakini. Last week, a court dismissed his appeal of his 2010 arrest, although he was never formally charged, and another court ruled that the government had to return the books confiscated from him. Zunar says he has another appeal before the court and doesn’t expect to prevail in that one either.
The trouble started in 2009 with the publication of his comic Gedung Kartun (Cartoon-o-Phobia). Before it could be distributed, government officials raided his office and confiscated 400 copies of the book; the next day they raided his printer and warned them not to print any more of Zunar’s books, threatening to revoke their printing license.
No matter how hard they try, Disney and Marvel can’t seem to shake the specter of Stan Lee Media: Just two months after a federal judge dismissed a multibillion lawsuit against Disney for ownership of the Marvel characters co-created by Stan Lee, the failed dot-com has emerged in another, seemingly unrelated dispute.
In September, Disney, Marvel and Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. sued Lancaster, Pennsylvania-bases 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).
On Monday the theater responded with an eye-opening claim of its own: that Disney doesn’t own Spider-Man. Instead, the counterclaim states, the character belongs to Stan Lee Media, which licensed the rights to the American Music Theatre.
Conventions | Brian Howe looks at the rivalry between Comic Book City Con, which debuted two weekends ago in Greensboro, North Carolina, and NC Comicon, which returns Saturday in Durham. The latter, which is now co-owned by artist Tommy Lee Edwards, drew 4,000 attendees last year (its first at the Durham Convention Center), and this year doubled its exhibit space and ramped up its programming. The conflict, which manifested in a flier for Comic Book City Con that one party considers playful but the other calls “bullying,” seems to be rooted in the proximity of the dates and a perceived lack of communication. However, it’s not simply a rivalry between nearby conventions; it’s one between retailers: Durham’s Ultimate Comics organizes NC Comicon, while Greensboro’s Acme Comics operates Comic Book City Con. [Indy Week]
Former Superman artist Al Plastino was startled to learn his original artwork for “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy” is up for auction — and not in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, as he had been led to believe.
According to the New York Post, Plastino was at New York Comic Con when he learned another exhibitor had the artwork, and that Heritage Auctions was scheduled to sell it (with a starting bid of $20,000 per page) on Nov. 22, the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. Plastino, who is 91 and has prostate cancer, posted a plea for help on his Facebook page, and the comics community quickly responded with offers of legal help.
Plastino drew the story “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy” in 1963 to promote Kennedy’s physical fitness program, as part of a collaboration between DC and the Kennedy administration. The issue was scheduled to go on sale in late November, but editors quickly pulled it and substituted other material when Kennedy was assassinated. Shortly afterward, President Lyndon Johnson’s staff asked DC to go ahead and run the story, which they did, adding a special commemorative page showing Superman saluting a ghostly image of Kennedy.
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.
With 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.”
Deadline reports that more than two years after the failed dot-com sued Paradox Entertainment in a bid to reclaim the rights to Robert E. Howard’s most famous character, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has effectively delivered the deathblow to SLM’s case, upholding a lower court’s 2012 dismissal. Of course, we’ve learned by now that the company isn’t one to give up a legal fight.
Stan Lee Media, which hasn’t had a connection to its co-founder and namesake in more than a decade — in fact, it has sued Stan Lee on a few occasions — purchased the rights to the Conan characters in 2000, shortly before it entered federal bankruptcy protection. The company claimed its interests weren’t properly represented, nor were shareholders notified, when in 2002 Conan Sales Co. bought back the rights. The complaint also alleged that the late Arthur Lieberman, Stan Lee’s longtime attorney, committed fraud during the proceedings, and failed to report conflicts of interest. Therefore, SLM argued, the subsequent sale of the characters to Paradox Entertainment should be annulled.
Creators | Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson and Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson discuss their mutual admiration and their excitement about exhibiting their work together next spring at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at the Ohio State University. [Comic Riffs]
Legal | Chinese cartoonist Wang Luming, who uses the nom de plume “Rebel Pepper,” was arrested Wednesday, one day after he posted an online cartoon critical of police who were facing off with protestors rather than helping flood victims in the city of Yuyao. Residents have been critical of the government response to the flood, which put 70 percent of the city underwater, but a recently passed law suppressing online commentary has muted the criticism on social media. The Beijing Times (part of of the traditional media, which is heavily controlled by the Chinese government) claimed that Wang was arrested not because of the cartoon but because he spread a false rumor online (Reuters reports the police told his girlfriend it was because he forwarded a post about a woman and her child who starved to death in the floods). He was released Thursday and tweeted, “When I have time, I’ll tell you about the interesting night I spent at the police station.” [Foreign Policy]
As Morrissey once wrote, “I know it’s over/And it never really began”: This Charming Charlie, the delightful blog that mashed up Peanuts panels with The Smiths lyrics, has closed (at least for now), less than two months after its launch. But the culprit might not be who you think.
Techdirt notes that the blog’s mastermind Lauren LoPrete announced last week that The Smiths license holder Universal Music Publishing Group — rather that Peanuts Worldwide — began inundating her with takedown notices, leading her to advise her readers that she’s ending the Tumblr. However, she isn’t giving up without a fight.
LoPrete tells Motherboard that as soon as she posted the farewell, she began getting offers from lawyers to accept her case pro bono. And so now, with a little help, she’s filing counter-notifications with Tumblr, insisting the mash-ups fall under the fair-use exception of U.S. copyright law.
Legal | A dancer seriously injured last month during a performance of the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark insists the accident was caused by malfunctioning equipment and not, as the show’s producers contend, by human error. Daniel Curry made the claim in documents filed Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court that seek to prevent the production from altering or destroying the computerized stage lift before his experts can inspect the equipment in preparation for a potential civil lawsuit. He’s also requesting maintenance records and any internal reports about the accident. The 23-year-old Curry was injured during the Aug. 15 performance of Spider-Man when his leg was pinned in an automated trap door. According to court papers, he suffered fractured legs and a fractured foot, and has had to undergo surgeries and unspecified amputations. [New York Daily News, The New York Times]