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.
On 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.’ ”
Publishing | As the movie version of 2 Guns heads toward theaters this weekend, BOOM! Studios CEO Ross Richie talks about his company’s “creator share” model and his career in comics publishing, from Malibu Studios to Atomeka to BOOM!, which he co-founded on a suggestion from Keith Giffen, whom he describes as “the Aerosmith of comics”: “If Steven Tyler came up to you and said, ‘You really ought to produce albums,’ you probably would listen.” [The New York Times]
Legal | The prosecutor for Singapore’s Attorney-General’s Chambers has decided not to pursue sedition charges against cartoonist Leslie Chew, who was arrested in April on charges stemming from a cartoon at his Demon-Cratic Singapore Facebook page. Chew still faces charges of contempt of court for “scandalising the Judiciary of the Republic of Singapore.” That case will be heard on Aug. 12. [Straits Times]
In a preemptive move, Studio JMS has sued a self-publisher who threatened legal action over a character in J. Michael Straczynski’s Sidekick. The dispute centers on the Red Cowl, the former masked mentor of the protagonist in the upcoming series from Joe’s Comics and Image Comics.
Straczynski and Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson received a cease-and-desist notice in late May from an attorney representing Richard A. Hamilton of Dial “C” for Comics, insisting that the Cowl (as he was then called) infringes on his client’s trademark and copyright for a costumed character of the same name in the series Miserable Dastards.
According to the lawsuit, filed late last month in federal court in Los Angeles, despite seeing no similarities between the two characters, Studio JMS changed the name to the Red Cowl in hopes of arriving at an “amicable resolution,” and “for other creative reasons.” It’s when Hamilton’s lawyer was notified of the alteration that the conflict got interesting — or at least extremely prickly.
An Australian federal court has ruled a Melbourne fitness service cannot register the trademark “Superman Workout,” finding the company made the application in bad faith.
DC Comics had appealed a July decision by the registrar of trademarks that Cheqout Pty’s use of “Superman Workout” was unlikely to deceive or confuse consumers, or lead a significant number of people to presume there’s a connection between the fitness classes and the publisher.
The New York Daily News casts a spotlight on Ray Felix, the small-press publisher who’s challenging the joint claim of DC Comics and Marvel to the “super hero” trademark, and comes away with some interesting details:
- The two publishers have prevented at least 35 people from using “super hero,” or some variation, since they were granted the mark in 1980 for toys and in 1981 for comic books. (You may remember that in 2004 GeekPunk changed the name of its series Super Hero Happy Hour to Hero Happy Hour following objections by DC and Marvel.)
- Although Felix admits he’s unlikely to win his case before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property tells the newspaper that Marvel and DC’s joint ownership “violates the basic tenet of trademark law.” “A trademark stands for a single source of origin, not two possible sources of origin,” Ron Coleman argues. “If the public understands that the word ‘superhero’ could come from A or B, then by definition that’s a word and not a trademark.”
- Even if the appeal board were to find in Felix’s favor, it would only mean he can retain his registration for his series A World Without Superheroes. Revocation of Marvel and DC’s trademark would require a costly civil lawsuit.
Felix’s dispute with the comics giants dates back to September 2010, when he received a cease-and-desist letter after registering a trademark for his series. Following more a year and a half of exchanges between Felix and the companies’ attorneys, DC Comics and Marvel Characters Inc. in March 2012 filed a formal opposition with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Kippa Man owner Avi Binyamin agreed to pay each company $17,000 for infringing on their trademarks; they’d originally sought $27,000 in damages.
Binyamin told The Jerusalem Post in September that he doesn’t produce the yarmulkes, but merely sells them like many other shops in the area. “They make them in China, I just bring them,” he said. “There are 20 stores on this street, they all sell the same thing,” Indeed, the newspaper reported that nearly every store on Ben-Yehuda Street displayed yarmulkes outside. However, Kippa Man is the most successful and best known outside of Israel.
The Times of Israel then characterized the lawsuit as “the first move by Marvel against what it perceives as widespread copyright infringement in Israel, where products featuring its copyrighted superheros are commonly sold.” Lawyers for Marvel and Warner Bros. told the Israeli newspaper Maariv that the companies will pursue legal action against other small stores that violate their trademarks.
A federal judge on Thursday dealt a crippling blow to a custom carmarker, siding with DC Comics in a ruling that declared the Batmobile isn’t merely an automobile but “a copyrightable character.”
The publisher sued Gotham Garage owner Ben Towle in May 2011, accusing his California-based business of violating its trademarks and copyrights by manufacturing and selling unlicensed replicas of the 1966 and 1989 Batmobile. DC sought a permanent injunction, the destruction of all infringing products and damages of no less than $750,000 for each infringement.
However, Towle countered that the U.S. Copyright Act affords no protection to “useful articles,” defined as objects that have “an intrinsic utilitarian function” — for example, clothing, household appliances or, in this case, automobile functions. He failed to persuade U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew with that argument last year in a motion to dismiss, and he was no more successful this time.
In an interview with Crisp Comics, Ray Felix of Cup O’ Java Studio Comix recounts receiving a cease-and-desist letter in September 2010 after he registered a trademark for his comic series A World Without Superheroes. Following more a year and a half of exchanges between Felix and the companies’ attorneys, DC Comics and Marvel Characters Inc. in March 2012 filed a formal opposition with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which decides certain cases involving trademarks.
Their original registration for “super hero” and “super heroes,” which received widespread attention when it was renewed in 2006, covers a range of products, from comic books and playing cards to pencil sharpeners and glue. However, Felix argues DC and Marvel have overstepped the bounds of their trademark.
Less than two weeks after the iconic vehicle from the 1966 Batman television series sold at auction for $4.62 million, a custom carmaker was arguing that a federal judge should dismiss DC Comics’ claims that his Batmobile replicas infringe on the company’s trademarks.
The publisher sued Gotham Garage owner Ben Towle in May 2011, accusing his California-based business of manufacturing and selling unlicensed replicas of the 1966 and 1989 Batmobile (the company also offers a recreation of the TV show’s Batboat). DC seeks a permanent injunction, the destruction of all infringing products and damages of no less than $750,000 for each infringement.
While Towle failed to persuade a judge in February 2012 that the complaint should be thrown out on the grounds that the U.S. Copyright Act affords no protection to “useful articles,” Law360 reports on Wednesday his attorney took a different approach, arguing that DC waited too long to assert its rights.
DC Comics has taken its objections over a “Superman Workout” to federal court in Sydney, Australia, arguing a Melbourne fitness service should not be allowed to register the trademark.
According to 9News, the publisher is appealing a July decision by the registrar of trademarks that Cheqout Pty’s use of the “Superman Workout” mark, as it was unlikely to deceive or confuse consumers, or lead a significant number of people to presume there’s a connection between the fitness classes and DC Comics.
DC Comics has settled its trademark-infringement lawsuit against a Florida barbershop owner it accused of using its Superman logos without permission, Law360 reports. Details of the agreement weren’t immediately available.
The publisher filed the lawsuit in September against Reginal B. Jones, owner of Supermen Fades to Fros in Eatonville and Winter Park, claiming his shops exploited the Superman trademarks for signage, barber capes and marketing materials (photos on the Fades to Fros website show as much).
Legal | Both Warner Bros. and automobile customizer Mark Towle have filed for summary judgment in the studio’s 2011 copyright-infringement lawsuit against Towle, whose Gotham Garage sold several replicas of the Batmobile. Warner, the parent company of DC Comics, claims the design of the Batmobile is its intellectual property, while Towle argues that copyright law does not regard a “useful object,” such as a car, as a sculptural work and therefore the design can’t be copyrighted. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Crime | Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, are investigating the theft of 600 X-Men comics, dating back to the 1970s, from the communal storage area of an apartment building. [Journal Star]
A federal judge last week rejected a bid by HarperCollins to dismiss claims by comics creator Jazan Wild that the title of Melissa Marr’s new fantasy novel Carnival of Souls infringes on his trademark.
Law360 reports that in denying the motion, U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton Tucker disagreed with the publisher’s assertion that the trademark was invalid because it applied to the title of a single comic, finding that Wild (aka Jason Barnes) had demonstrated his Carnival of Souls is a series.
The judge also didn’t buy HarperCollins’ argument that the title of Marr’s book is protected by the First Amendment, pointing to Wild’s claim that the publisher “deliberately chose a confusingly similar title for its competing book in the same genre.” That allegation raises what Tucker deemed is “a factual question as to whether [Marr's] book is likely to confuse consumers as to the origin of its source. The court cannot determine, as a matter of law, that it does not.”
The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman, who was embroiled in a bizarre and hilarious legal dispute over the summer, is now facing another lawsuit, this time from a Massachusetts greeting card company.
Law360 reports that Excelsior Printing Co. on Tuesday sued the popular cartoonist and Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, a subsidiary of American Greetings, claiming they’re using a trademarked name to sell cards based on Inman’s Oatmeal creations. Excelsior insists its recently purchased subsidiary Oatmeal Studios has been using the name to market humorous cards for more than 35 years.
The lawsuit asserts the use of “The Oatmeal” mark will confuse consumers, who may believe the businesses are related. Excelsior asks for unspecified damages and an injunction barring The Oatmeal from using its name in association with greeting cards.