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]
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.)
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.
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.”
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.
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]
Reacting to analysis of Marvel’s much-publicized dispute with Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich, Joe the Barbarian artist Sean Gordon Murphy has announced he’ll no longer sell convention sketches or commissions of characters he doesn’t own, and encourages other creators to do the same.
“Am I rolling over in fear of Marvel? Maybe, but [...] they’re in their legal right to come after me if there’s ever a dispute,” Murphy wrote this morning on deviantART. “I love to complain about the Big Two, but I can’t (in good conscience) get upset at them if I’m breaking the rules myself. Being DC exclusive, maybe I can get a waiver that allows me to sketch DC characters, so I’ll keep you updated.”
Friedrich sued Marvel, Sony Pictures and other companies in 2007, claiming the rights to Ghost Rider had reverted to him six years earlier because the publisher never registered the character’s first appearance in 1972′s Marvel Spotlight #5 with the U.S. Copyright Office. Marvel counter-sued in 2010, seeking damages from Friedrich who, through Gary Friedrich Enterprises LLC, had produced and sold unauthorized Ghost Rider posters, cards and T-shirts at conventions and online. The company also asserted that Friedrich had “aided and abetted third parties” in reproducing and selling “graphic and narrative elements” of Ghost Rider comics.
Neal Adams, the legendary comic artist and advocate for creator rights, has joined Steve Niles and others in issuing a call to help Gary Friedrich, the Ghost Rider creator who owes Marvel $17,000 in damages for selling unauthorized merchandise.
Writing this morning on his Facebook page, Adams asked fellow artists to donate artwork for sale or auction to benefit the ailing Friedrich, who’s in danger of losing his home.
“Fellow creators, we can help Gary Friedrich without taking any kind of position in his case with Marvel,” he wrote. “Gary is sick, and he’s about to lose his house, and though he will tell you he is not destitute, he needs help. If I have to do it alone, I will see to it that he gets his mortgage paid, and gets some money in the bank. But I would like to ask you all to help.”
Gary is a victim of the deficiencies of two very bad copyright laws, and the history in the comic book industry of poor practices on everybody’s part. There will be battles in the future, and good will come of them. But this is simply just a bad situation. Gary is one of us. And while we can’t save him from Marvel, and his small place in history, we can help him have a place to live, ongoing. And I can only promise you this. If you find yourself in a bad situation, whether for heath or other reasons, I and others, will join to help you. Just as you have helped to support William Messner-Loebs, Dave Cockrum and others.
While I hope that Marvel would step up and help out too, I can understand that they find themselves in such an unfortunate position that they cannot do so. I would like to believe that they would if they could.
Artists wishing to donate work my send in to: Continuity Studios, 15 W. 39th St., ninth floor, New York, NY 10018.
Legal | A judge refused to dismiss DC Comics’ lawsuit against Gotham Garage, a manufacturer of custom-made Batmobiles, ruling that the design of Batman’s vehicle is indeed copyrightable. DC sued the California company in May for copyright and trademark infringement, claiming Gotham Garage is confusing the public into thinking the cars are authorized products. The manufacturer asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the U.S. Copyright Act affords no protection to “useful articles.” The judge disagreed, ruling that Gotham Garage “ignores the exception to the ‘useful article’ rule, which grants copyright protection to nonfunctional, artistic elements of an automobile design that can be physically or conceptually separated from the automobile.” [The Hollywood Reporter]
Legal | Nancy Hass provides a broad overview of the legal battle at Archie Comics that pits Co-CEOs Jon Goldwater and Nancy Silberkleit against each other for control of the 73-year-old company. Silberkleit, who spoke briefly to Hass before a New York judge issued a temporary restraining order last month, called claims that she’s threatened and harassed the publisher’s employees and vendors “completely untrue.” [The Daily Beast]
Jeff Kinney, the author behind the $500 million Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, has sued Antarctic Press, accusing the comic publisher of violating trademark laws with its Diary of a Zombie Kid series.
TheWrap reports the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boston by Wimpy Kid Inc., accuses the San Antonio-based publisher of using a title and cover design “confusingly similar” to those of the Wimpy Kid books in an obvious attempt “to confuse the public into believing that defendant’s books are additions to such series.” Read the lawsuit here.
Created by Fred Perry and David Hutchison, the August-debuting Diary of a Zombie Kid follows Bill Dookes, a fifth-grader whose mother volunteers for medical research only to bring home a mysterious zombie virus that leaves her son with “skin problems and body chemistry changes that make puberty look like a walk in the park” — not to mention a growing appetite for brains. A sequel, Diary of a Zombie Kid: Rotten Rules — an apparent nod to Kinney’s second book Rodrick Rules — is set for release in January.
Kinney’s six-book Wimpy Kid series, presented as the journal of middle-school student Greg Heffley, has sold more than 52 million copies in North America alone since its 2007 debut and spawned two movies and numerous merchandising tie-ins, including clothes, toys and games.
The complaint accuses Antarctic of trademark infringement, copyright infringement, false designation of origin, trade dress infringement, trademark dilution and deceptive trade practices, and asks the court to permanently enjoin the publisher from further infringement. Wimpy Kid Inc. also seeks triple damages, in addition to attorney’s fees and Antarctic’s profits from Diary of a Zombie Kid.
Antarctic Press Publisher Joe Dunn declined comment to the Boston Herald, saying, “Obviously, I would love to talk about it and give my side of it. However I’ve been advised not to say anything.” His attorney said the publisher will be answering the complaint “promptly.”
While the big legal story is, of course, a federal judge’s ruling that the family of Jack Kirby has no claim to the copyrights for the characters he co-created for Marvel, the company also scored a courtroom victory this week in another, lower-profile case.
A judge declared on Tuesday that Ghost Rider co-creator Gary Friedrich will have to defend counterclaims by Marvel accusing him of violating its trademark by using the phrase “Ghost Rider” and the character’s image on posters, cards and T-shirts, Courthouse News Service reports.
The dispute stems from a 2007 lawsuit filed by Friedrich against Marvel, Columbia Pictures, Hasbro and other companies alleging the copyrights used in the Ghost Rider movie and related products reverted to him in 2001. He sought unspecified damages for copyright infringement, and violations of federal and Illinois state unfair competition laws, negligence, waste, false advertising and endorsement, and several other claims.
Friedrich claimed he created Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider in 1968 and, three years later, agreed to publish the character through Magazine Management, which eventually became Marvel Entertainment. Under the agreement, the publisher held the copyright to the character’s origin story in 1972′s Marvel Spotlight #5, and to subsequent Ghost Rider works. However, Friedrich alleged the company never registered the work with the U.S. Copyright Office and, pursuant to federal law, he regained the copyrights to Ghost Rider in 2001.
The case has taken a few turns, with a judge in May 2010 dismissing the claims made under state law after determining that the Copyright Act of 1976 is the relevant federal statute. That decision was followed in December by counterclaims by Marvel Characters, the subsidiary that actually holds the rights to the company’s characters, accusing Friedrich of the unauthorized sale of Ghost Rider posters, T-shirts and cards online and at comic conventions.
Friedrich, who amended his complaint in March 2011, attempted to have the counterclaims dismissed. However, on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones rejected his motion. Courthouse News Service notes that Friedrich’s lawsuit is in discovery, with Marvel and the other defendants so far turning over 34,000 pages of documents.
Ghost Rider, the 2007 film based on the character Friedrich co-created, grossed $228 million worldwide. Columbia Pictures will release the sequel on Feb. 17, 2012.
Fusible reports that a panelist for the National Arbitration Forum agreed with DC’s argument that the domain name is identical to the company’s trademarks “Man of Steel,” registered in 1999, and “The Man of Steel,” registered in 1987. He also found that ManofSteel.com was registered and used in bad faith, and was “neither a bona fide offering of goods or services nor a legitimate noncommercial or fair use.”
Coni c/o LBR Enterprises, which was believed to have registered the domain in October 2001, failed to respond to DC’s June 22 complaint.
The Zack Snyder-directed Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, is set to open in December 2012. Fusible notes that TheManofSteel.com, which isn’t owned by Warner Bros. or DC, is for sale by its current owner for $300.
DC Comics has sued a California manufacturer of replica vehicles, accusing him of infringing on the company’s copyrights and trademarks by selling custom-made Batmobiles.
Hollywood, Esq., reports that DC filed the lawsuit last week in federal court against Mark Towles, whose business Gotham Garage specializes in the creation and sale of television and movie replica vehicles, from the 1989 movie Batmobile to the 1966 TV Batmobile and Batboat to Speed Racer’s Mach 5. Presumably none of those replicas is licensed, as the indicia on Towles’ website states that “Neither Gotham Garage nor Mark Towle are directly affiliated with Warner Brothers Inc., DC Comics., 20th Century Fox Inc., Walt Disney Inc., nor The Munsters Official Organizations.”
The publisher accuses Towles of copyright and trademark infringement, trademark counterfeiting and unfair competition, and seeks a permanent injunction, the destruction of all infringing products and damages of no less than $750,000 for each infringement.
A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that the family of pioneering animator Max Fleischer doesn’t own the copyright or trademark to cartoon sex symbol turned comic strip and merchandising star Betty Boop, and can’t sue others for using the character’s image.
Courthouse News Service reports the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision that a half-dozen manufacturers of Betty Boop merchandise hadn’t infringed on Fleischer Studios’ copyright — because Fleischer Studios couldn’t demonstrate it has one.
Created in 1930 by Fleischer and animator Grim Natwick (probably among others), the cartoon flapper became the star of the studio’s Talkartoons series before being sold to Paramount Pictures in 1942. The Fleischer family contends that Paramount transferred its Betty Boop rights in 1955 to UM&M TV, which three years later sold them to the company that eventually became Republic Pictures. A decade later, Republic allegedly transferred the rights back to Fleischer Studios.
However, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled the Fleischer heirs failed to show proof of any of the transfers the plaintiffs alleged took place after Paramount purchased the rights in 1942. The appeals court agreed in a 2-1 decision, finding that Paramount retained the copyright in its 1955 agreement with UM&M TV, and actually sold Betty Boop to Harvey Films — the animation arm of Harvey Comics, now owned by Classic Media — some three years later. The panel also dismissed Fleischers’ trademark claims for lack of evidence.
In addition to her countless animated appearances, including cameos in commercials and the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Betty Boop has starred in two comic strips, one in the 1930s and another, with Felix the Cat, in the 1980s.
Awards | Jeff Lemire’s acclaimed Essex County was the first finalist eliminated Monday in the Canada Reads literary debates to select the essential Canadian novel of the decade. Despite a defense by musician Sara Quin, the graphic novel was voted down by the five-person celebrity panel after the first hour, not because of content but because of format: Four of the judges just couldn’t get past Essex County‘s “lack of words.” This year marked the first time that a graphic novel had been a finalist for the prestigious Canada Reads program.
“Well, I was the first book voted off of the Canada Reads competition today, and I’ll admit that it stings a bit more than I thought it would,” Lemire wrote on his blog. “But, in the end I am really proud of the accomplishment of making it to the final 5. It’s a great sign for the future of graphic novels in this country, and their continued acceptance mainstream literary circles on a whole.” [Afterword, CBC News]