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Comics A.M. | Judge places hold on Hastings sale

Hastings

Hastings

Retailing | A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order halting the $21.4 million purchase of retail chain Hastings Entertainment by Joel Weinshanker, president and sole shareholder of Wizkids parent National Entertainment Collectibles Association. The order was granted at the request of two Hastings shareholders who sued to stop the sale, insisting the price paid for the retailer is too low; it will remain in effect until a hearing can be held on June 12. Hastings issued a statement Monday pledging to “vigorously dispute these claims.” Hastings operates a chain of 149 stores that sells books, comics, video games and more. [Amarillo Globe-News, via ICv2]

Retailing | Amazon may be charging full price for Hachette’s graphic novels as part of its continuing contract dispute with the publisher, but Barnes & Noble has leaped into the breach with big discounts and a buy-two-get-one-free promotion on Hachette’s Yen Press manga and Little, Brown’s Tintin books. [ICv2]

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Doyle estate insists Sherlock Holmes remains under copyright

sherlock holmesThe estate of Arthur Conan Doyle asked a seemingly unsympathetic Seventh Circuit on Thursday to overturn a lower-court ruling that the elements from the first 50 Sherlock Holmes stories have lapsed into the public domain in the United States.

According to Law 360, estate attorney Benjamin Allison insisted that U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo erred in December 2013 when he rejected the novel argument that the characters were effectively incomplete until the author’s final Holmes story was published in the United States, leaving the work protected by copyright. Castillo instead determined that all but the 10 short stories published after Jan. 1, 1923 are now part of the public domain, permitting writers and artists to use a majority of the characters and elements without paying a licensing fee to the Doyle estate.

The Seventh Circuit’s three-judge panel appeared no more enamored with Allison’s argument than Castillo did, with U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner characterizing the estate’s position as a “very aggressive attempt to enlarge copyright law.” He said if the appeals court were to accept the estate’s position, it would create an “irresistible temptation” for copyright holders to keep creating variations of early works simply to keep them out of the public domain.

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Comics A.M. | Tunisian court denies cartoonist’s appeal

Jabeur Mejri

Jabeur Mejri

Legal | A Tunisian court denied cartoonist Jabeur Mejri’s appeal of an eight-month sentence on charges of insulting a public official. Mejri was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in 2012 for drawing cartoons that insulted the Prophet Mohammed, but was pardoned by President Moncef Marzouki earlier this year. Before he was released, however, news leaked that he had also been charged with embezzlement stemming from his time working for the Tunisian railway. Mejri was released from prison in March, but six weeks later he was arrested again, this time on charges of insulting a court official. His support committee said Mejri is being subjected to “judicial harassment” and released a statement saying “It’s clear … that there is a desire not to accept the presidential pardon and to keep Jabeur in prison at all costs, to make him pay dearly for his freedom of expression and deter him from any further attempts.” [Naharnet]

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Comics A.M. | C2E2 sees growth in attendance, floor space

C2E2

C2E2

Conventions | Lance Fensterman, ReedPOP’s global senior vice president, talks about his company’s strategy of focusing on a few big shows, rather than a lot of smaller ones, and gives the numbers for last month’s Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo: Attendance was about 62,900, up 18 percent from last year, and the show floor grew by 15,000 square feet. Attendees are mostly in the 18-to-35 age group, and the majority are male, although the proportion of women at C2E2 has increased by 6 percent since 2011. Male or female, many of the folks on the floor seem to be “casual consumers” rather than “hardcore fans”: About 50 percent of attendees at New York Comic Con were there for the first time. “Depending on which exhibiting company you’re talking to, they either love it or they’re not sure what to do with it,” Fensterman said. “You’re delivering new readers and new potential consumers. We think it’s cool that you’re getting that fresh perspective, not quite so jaded (been there, done that).” [ICv2]

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Dynamite, ERB Inc. partner for ‘John Carter: Warlord of Mars’

Dynamite's previously released "Warlord of Mars" #1

Dynamite’s previously released “Warlord of Mars” #1

In a surprising conclusion to their rights dispute, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. and Dynamite Entertainment this morning announced an agreement for the worldwide release of John Carter comics, archival material and the publisher’s Lord of the Jungle line.

ERB Inc., the family-owned company that controls the existing rights to the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars novels, sued Dynamite in February 2012, accusing the publisher of trademark and copyright infringement and unfair competition through the release of its Lord of the Jungle and Warlord of Mars comics. Dynamite responded, insisting that its series were based on material that’s lapsed into the public domain, and noting that other publishers have released Burroughs-inspired comics, using similar titles, without a license from ERB Inc.

Now that the two parties have settled their differences, and ERB Inc. has reacquired the John Carter comics rights from Disney and Marvel, Dynamite will be able to relaunch Warrior of Mars later this year as John Carter: Warlord of Mars, and introduce characters and plot elements “that were, until now, absent from recent comic book interpretations” (presumably because they remain protected by copyright). Dynamite will also republish John Carter archival material, dating back to the early 1940s comic strips written by Burroughs’ son Coleman Burroughs.

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Former DA investigator pleads guilty to stealing seized comics

A copy of "All Winners Comics" #1 was among the stolen comics

A copy of “All Winners Comics” #1 was among the stolen comics

A former investigator for the Harris County (Texas) District Attorney’s Office pleaded guilty today in federal court to stealing thousands of dollars worth of comic books seized as evidence in a criminal case.

According to the Beaumont Enterprise, 39-year-old Lonnie Blevins admitted he took more than $5,000 worth of vintage comics and sold them at a convention in Chicago. He could face a maximum of 10 years in prison when he’s sentenced Aug. 1, but his attorney is hopeful he’ll instead receive probation for his cooperation.

The case stems from the January 2013 arrest of Anthony Chiofalo, a disbarred New York attorney who somehow landed a job as head of legal affairs at Texas-based Tadano America, where he’s said to have embezzled more than $9 million. He spent a sizable portion of that money on sports memorabilia and vintage comics, including a copy of Detective Comics #27 worth about $900,000.

Blevins was charged in February 2013, about two months after he left the D.A.’s office, following a federal investigation into the disappearance of items, including dozens of comics, seized from Chiofalo’s home and storage units. Blevins’ partner at the office was suspended, and later resigned; however, he hasn’t been charged with any crimes.

Chiofalo was sentenced last week to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to the theft of more than $200,000.

Tokyo restricts sale of erotic manga ‘Younger Sister Paradise 2′

Younger Sister Paradise 2The Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced Monday that it will classify the erotic Younger Sister Paradise 2 as a “harmful publication” to minors, the first time the designation has been made since 2011, when restrictions were tightened on the sale of sexual manga and anime.

According to The Tokyo Reporter, Younger Sister Paradise 2 is Sekizai Mikage’s adaptation of an adult video game about a boy who’s propositioned by his five younger sisters. It was published last month by Kadokawa Shoten.

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Supreme Court to decide next week whether to hear Kirby case

kirby-kirby4heroesThe U.S. Supreme Court will debate in a private conference on May 15 whether to weigh in on the five-year copyright battle between Jack Kirby’s heirs and Marvel/Disney, Deadline reports.

The odds are against the artist’s children, as the Supreme Court receives about 10,000 petitions each year, but hears oral arguments in only about 75 to 80 of those cases. However, if the Justices decide to take up the case, oral argument will be scheduled later this month for the court’s next session.

The Kirby family filed a petition with the high court on March 21 arguing “it is beyond dispute” that the artist’s Marvel output between 1959 and 1963 was not produced as “work for hire” and, therefore, is subject to a clause in the U.S. Copyright Act that permits authors and their heirs to reclaim rights transferred before 1978.

That appeal followed an August decision by the Second Circuit upholding a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s Marvel works were indeed made at the publisher’s “instance and expense” and, therefore, fell under “work for hire.” As such, the courts found, the 45 copyright-termination notices the artist’s heirs filed in 2009 for such characters as the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk were invalid.

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Lawyer who bought comics with embezzled loot sentenced to 40 years

detective comics27An attorney charged with embezzling more than $9 million from his former employer, only to spend much of it on high-priced collectibles like a copy of Detective Comics #27, was sentenced today in Houston to more than 40 years in prison.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Anthony Chiofalo, who landed a job in 2009 as head of legal affairs for Tadano America despite being disbarred in New York, pleaded guilty to the theft of more than $200,000, a first-degree felony. Prosecutors say within a year of being hired, Chiofalo began setting up dummy law firms that charged his employer for litigation work — to the tune of $9.3 million.

They say he used a sizable chunk of the money to purchase sports memorabilia and vintage comic books: When his home and storage units were raided, authorities found a baseball signed by Babe Ruth, a first-edition Playboy, and a copy of Detective Comics #27 worth about $900,000.

The case didn’t stop with Chiofalo, however, as Lonnie Blevins, an investigator with the Harris County’s District Attorney’s office, was later arrested and charged with taking some of those comic books following the raid and selling them to collectors. His case is pending in federal court. According to the newspaper, Blevins’ partner was suspended from the D.A.’s office, and then resigned; he hasn’t been charged.

Comics A.M. | Man sentenced for role in plot to kill cartoonist

Mohammad Hassan Khalid

Mohammad Hassan Khalid

Legal | Mohammad Hassan Khalid was sentenced last week in Philadelphia to five years in prison for his part in a failed 2009 plan to kill Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist who drew the head of the Prophet Mohammed on the body of a dog. Khalid, now 20, was a teenager and an honors student when he became involved with Colleen LaRose, aka “Jihad Jane,” who in January was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her part in the plot. Prosecutors pointed to the fact that Khalid also translated violent jihad videos into English, which may have helped recruit new terrorists, but they also asked for leniency because he cooperated with them after his arrest. The defense claimed he was simply a vulnerable, awkward teenager who has since been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Khalid, who had been offered a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins University but was arrested before graduating from high school, will get credit for the three years he has already served in prison. [Reuters]

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DC and Marvel take defense of ‘super hero’ trademark to U.K.

business zero to superheroA British author is accusing DC Comics and Marvel of “banning the use of the word superhero” after he received notice that the publishers are opposing his attempt to trademark the title of his advice book Business Zero to Superhero.

“I was very shocked,” Graham Jules told BBC Radio. “I’m a new author and small business, and I’m now in the position of fighting or scrapping the entire book.” The Mail on Sunday picked up on his story, running it with a headline that’s both cliche and misleading: “Zap! You can’t say ‘superhero’.”

As many comics fans know, and Jules quickly learned, DC and Marvel have since 1979 jointly owned the trademark for “super hero” and “super heroes,” covering a range of products, from comic books and playing cards to pencil sharpeners and glue. Their renewal of that mark in 2006 drew widespread attention, as well as scrutiny from those who question whether such a term should be allowed to be registered.

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Comics A.M. | Carol, Kamala and a changing superhero landscape

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

Comics | Tammy Oler considers the roles of Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel within a growing movement to make superhero comics more diverse: “The devoted fans in the Carol Corps and Kamala Korps view themselves as part of a movement for a bigger and more diverse comic book universe, and it seems like publishers might finally be starting to pay attention. Both Ms. Marvel and the rebooted Captain Marvel are part of Marvel NOW!, an effort by the publisher to attract new readers by providing a lot of accessible places for new readers to jump on board with ongoing series. (DC Comics has done something similar with its New 52 initiative.) Marvel and DC have also taken some steps to address their lack of superhero diversity, in part by launching some new female solo titles, including Black Widow, She-Hulk, and Elektra. Of course, there’s a whole world of mainstream and indie publishers beyond Marvel and DC, but the big two still matter the most because they create the pantheon of superheroes that make it into movie theatres and onto the racks of Halloween costumes at Target.” [Slate.com]

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Comics A.M. | Cartoonist Signe Wilkinson named in defamation suit

From the Wilkinson cartoon in question

From the Wilkinson cartoon in question

Legal | Signe Wilkinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, has been named in a defamation lawsuit filed against the newspapers by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery and his wife Lise Rapaport. The judge and his wife accuse the two papers of running a smear campaign against them, and the suit specifically mentions a Wilkinson cartoon satirizing their marital and work relationship (it’s complicated). Blogger Alan Gardner adds that he hasn’t been able to find a case in which a cartoonist was successfully sued for defamation, although in this case the newspapers’ reporting is part of the issue as well. [Philadelphia, The Daily Cartoonist]

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Comics A.M. | Image, manga dominate March bookstore sales

The Walking Dead, Vol. 20

The Walking Dead, Vol. 20

Graphic novels | BookScan’s list of the bestselling graphic novels in bookstores in March divides neatly into eight Image Comics titles (six volumes of The Walking Dead and two of Saga), eight volumes of manga (four Attack on Titan, four Viz Media titles) and four volumes of media tie-ins. For the second month in a row, not a single DC Comics or Marvel title cracked the Top 20, although an older DK Publishing character guide to the Avengers (not actually a graphic novel) came in at No. 11. The top-selling title was the 20th volume of The Walking Dead, and the No. 2 was the third volume of Saga. It’s also interesting to note that the first three volumes of Attack on Titan charted higher than the most recent release, which suggests new readers are still coming into the franchise in substantial numbers — and sticking with it. [ICv2]

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Jack Kirby’s heirs take Marvel copyright fight to Supreme Court

Jack KirbyClaiming an appeals court “unconstitutionally appropriated” Jack Kirby’s copyrights and gave them to Marvel, the late artist’s heirs have taken their fight with the comics publisher to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a petition filed March 21, and first reported by Law 360, Kirby’s children argue “it is beyond dispute” that the artist’s Marvel work between 1959 and 1963 was not produced as “work for hire” and, therefore, is subject to a clause in the U.S. Copyright Act that permits authors and their heirs to reclaim copyrights transferred before 1978.

The appeal follows an August decision by the Second Circuit upholding a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s Marvel works were indeed made at the “instance and expense” — that term plays a significant role in the heirs’ petition — with the publisher assigning and approving projects and paying a page rate; in short, they were “work for hire.” As such, the courts found, the 45 copyright-termination notices the artist’s heirs filed in 2009 for such characters as the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk were invalid.

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