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Jerusalem store settles lawsuits over superhero yarmulkes

spider-kippaA Jerusalem retailer has reached a settlement with Marvel and Warner Bros. regarding the sale of unlicensed yarmulkes featuring Spider-Man and Superman.

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.

DC Comics wins copyright lawsuit over Batmobile replicas

One of Gotham Garage’s 1966 Batmobile replicas

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 Mark 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.

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Creator tangles with DC and Marvel over ‘super hero’ trademark

More than three decades after Marvel and DC Comics initially registered their joint trademark for “super hero,” a small-press publisher is disputing their claims to the mark.

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.

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Battle over Batmobile replicas is back in court

One of Gotham Garage's 1966 Batmobile replicas

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.

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DC wrestles with ‘Superman Workout’ trademark in Australia court

Part of the "superman workout," apparently

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.

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DC Comics cuts deal with Florida barbershops over trademark dispute

Supermen Fades to Fros

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).

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Comics A.M. | Batmobile case heats up; 600 X-Men comics stolen

A Batmobile replica from Gotham Garage

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]

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Carnival of Souls lawsuit can continue against HarperCollins

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.”

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The Oatmeal sued over greeting card trademark

One of Matthew Inman's Oatmeal cards

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.

Inman’s cards are sold on his website, and in Recycled’s Papyrus store chain, which has about 180 locations nationwide.

Comics A.M. | Police recover $19,000 in stolen comics

Crime

Crime | Police in Jackson, Mississippi, have recovered a comic-book collection valued at $19,000, and arrested two suspects in the burglary. [WJTV]

Legal | Gerry Giovinco questions why Marvel and DC Comics zealously defend their intellectual property rights, going so far as to sue a birthday party company that rented out lookalike costumes, but don’t even touch the many porn parodies of their comics that have sprung up in recent years. [CO2 Comics]

Comics | A Florida mother was upset to discover Chick tracts among her children’s trick-or-treat haul, saying the comics are racist and offensive. It’s the second time in as many weeks that the long-controversial evangelical comics have been publicly called out by a displeased parent. [KTNV]

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Jazan Wild’s attorney clarifies C&D demands, explains lawsuit

Carnival of Souls #1

Robot 6 reported Tuesday that comics creator Jazan Wild had sent cease-and-desist demands to book reviewers who posted excerpts of Carnival of Souls, a fantasy novel whose title is the basis of his recent trademark-infringement lawsuit against publisher HarperCollins. A spirited discussion followed in the comments, drawing in Wild (aka Jason Barnes) and his wife Susan Barnes.

Now Wild’s attorney Ted Shiells of Shiells Law Firm in Dallas has contacted Robot 6 with a statement to clarify Wild’s emails to reviewers — “Mr. Wild was not threatening to sue any of these persons. He only intended to make them aware of his trademark rights in CARNIVAL OF SOULS, to minimize the confusion he has already suffered,” Shiells said — and to address some of the questions and criticisms raised in the comments thread.

Wild, who gained attention in 2010 when he sued NBC and the producers of Heroes claiming they’d ripped off his idea for a “carnival of lost souls and outcasts,” accuses HarperCollins of intentionally using Carnival of Souls as the title of Melissa Marr’s new young-adult novel in an effort to create confusion between that book and his own 2005-2006 comic series and related works.

Shiells’ statement, which can be read below, explains the differences between trademark classifications, and underscores that while the title of a single book cannot be trademarked, the title of a series can be. However, there still appears to be some question whether HarperCollins ever planned Carnival of Souls to be the name of Marr’s forthcoming series. (Also in question: If Wild wasn’t threatening to sue bloggers, what exactly was the purpose of the cease-and-desist notices, which by their very nature are a threat of legal action; and what standing does he have to demand that websites remove excerpts of a book for which he holds no copyright. To Sheills’ credit, he apologized for any misunderstanding, but the whole situation is perplexing.)

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Claiming trademark infringement, Jazan Wild sends C&D letters to reviewers

Jazan Wild, the comics creator who gained attention in 2010 when he sued NBC and the producers of Heroes for $60 million, has begun sending cease-and-desist notices to reviewers who publish excerpts from Melissa Marr’s new young-adult fantasy novel Carnival of Souls, claiming the title violates his trademark.

Children’s literature website Bookalicious today posted an email from Wild, aka Jason Barnes, insisting that a recent excerpt of Marr’s book amounts to a “willful and malicious infringement” of his “Carnival of Souls” trademark and demanding its removal.

Wild’s objection follows a trademark-infringement lawsuit he filed in July against HarperCollins, accusing the publisher of intentionally using the title Carnival of Souls and the phrase “Enter the Carnival” in an effort to create confusion between Marr’s novel and his own 2005-2006 comic series and related works. He’s asking a federal court to prevent HarperCollins from using the title, and seeking the destruction of all of the allegedly infringing books and promotional materials, as well as unspecified damages. In court documents, Wild’s lawyer recounts his client’s repeated attempts to head off the release of Marr’s book as Carnival of Souls, which were ultimately dismissed with HarperCollins’ trademark counsel allegedly saying, “You’re not an attorney, are you?”

It’s worth noting that Wild’s legal dispute is with HarperCollins, so it’s unclear why his cease-and-desist notice is directed at book reviewers. More baffling, however, is how in Wild’s estimation an excerpt from Marr’s novel (whose copyright is held by Marr) infringes on his “Carnival of Souls” trademark; his objection is with the title, not the text.

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DC Comics, Disney and Sanrio sue party company over costumes

From the Party Animals website

DC Comics, Disney and Sanrio have sued a California birthday party entertainment company for copyright and trademark infringement, alleging that it’s using counterfeit costumes of such well-known characters as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Superman, Wonder Woman and Hello Kitty.

Law 360 reports that the lawsuit, filed last week in federal court in Los Angeles, accuses Party Animals and owner Jason Lancaster of using and renting costumes resembling the companies’ characters and logos for birthday and corporate parties, in violation of copyright and trademark laws.

“[Party Animals] is actively selling, offering for sale, renting, distributing or manufacturing unlicensed and counterfeit costumes, which incorporate unauthorized likenesses of the animated or live action characters or other logos owned by plaintiffs,” the complaint said. “[The] defendants have never been authorized by the plaintiffs to distribute the plaintiffs’ copyrighted properties.”

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Dynamite responds to ERB Inc. lawsuit over John Carter, Tarzan

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.

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Comics A.M. | Order of the Stick and the $1 million Kickstarter model

The Order of the Stick

Publishing | Three million-dollar Kickstarter drives, including Rich Burlew’s $1.2 million campaign for The Order of the Stick, make the fund-raising site look like a pot of gold to some folks, but it’s not that easy: Suw Charman-Anderson, who;s contemplating a Kickstarter drive herself, looks at the factors that make the big money-makers so successful. [Forbes]

Editorial cartoons | The New York Times has responded to Daryl Cagle’s criticism of its hiring policy and fees for editorial cartoonists, saying the newspaper will delay bringing political cartoons back to its Sunday review section until editors have had time to revisit their policies. [The Cagle Post]

Editorial cartoons | For those who want a look at the bigger picture, Columbia Journalism Review surveys the landscape of editorial cartooning and in particular, the economics of syndication. [Columbia Journalism Review]

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