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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.
In response to the lawsuit filed in February by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., Dynamite Entertainment has filed what amounts to a blanket denial to accusations of trademark and copyright infringement and unfair competition involving its Lord of the Jungle and Warlord of Mars comics.
ERB Inc., which holds the existing rights to the works of the author of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars novels, claims the comics Lord of the Jungle, Warlord of Mars, Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris and Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom are likely to “deceive, mislead and confuse the public” about the source or sponsorship of the content, causing “irreparable injury” to the family-owned company. It also insists the titles were published without authorization after Dynamite Entertainment President Nick Barrucci was told that Dark Horse held the licenses for the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars books.
In its answer to the complaint, filed last week in federal court in New York City and first reported by The Beat, Dynamite points out that the Burroughs works on which the comics are based are no longer protected by U.S. copyright law. As to the trademarks, the publisher notes, “There are numerous examples of Burroughs’ novels, and other works inspired by Burroughs’ novels bearing such alleged marks or similar marks, which have been published by third parties without any reference to” ERB Inc.
“In addition, Burroughs’ public domain novel Tarzan of the Apes has been republished by numerous publishers without any attribution to plaintiff, and the basic story of a jungle-dwelling, Tarzan-like character has appeared in literature and film without any affiliation to plaintiff,” the document states.
Dynamite, of course, asks the court to dismiss the lawsuit, which will likely be watched closely by those concerned with what’s been characterized as an effort to use a trademark to, effectively, prolong the duration of copyright. Read the publisher’s full answer below.