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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Despatches from an Alternate Universe

I know. I'm not meant to be blogging until the stuff that people are waiting for is all done, delivered and accepted. But a friend just sent me this headline...

Comic book rivals in court over ownership of three superheroes

A British comic book author has taken a rival to court in the US, claiming that he stole three characters that are now worth millions.

...which seems, along with most of the reporting and commentary, to have come from an alternate universe.

So...

In 2002 I took Todd McFarlane to court over non-payment of royalties, copyright filings claiming he'd written the comics I'd actually written and various other things. The jury found in my favour on all 18 of the issues they had to decide on, and as a result of that jury decision it was confirmed that I had a copyright share in the characters and stories I'd written (they weren't work for hire, and none of my rights had been signed away).

It was an issue of creators' rights, and actually wound up establishing some copyright rulings that have proved very beneficial to comics creators. As I said in interviews at the time, any money received from the case (after paying lawyers' bills) goes to comics charities.

Shortly afterwards, McFarlane's comic company declared bankruptcy, following the Tony Twist case, and a $15 million judgment against Todd. Eventually Todd settled with Twist.

This left me one of the biggest creditors of McFarlane's bankrupt comics company. Because they've been in bankruptcy, he's paid me nothing since the 2002 court case.

Now, some years later, McFarlane's comics company is coming out of bankruptcy, and an accountant whom Todd and I have mutually agreed on is trying to sort out exactly how much money I'm owed.

There are some knock-offs of the characters I've co-created that Todd published and made toys of over the years, and I felt they were derivative of the characters I'd created (or in one case, one actually was the same character I'd created). Todd didn't want to pay anything at all on them so he (not me/my lawyers) took it back before the judge. Nobody "stole characters" and there's no argument over "ownership of characters" going on. We're now waiting for a ruling on if those characters are (in my opinion) derivative or (Todd's opinion) not of the characters I co-created and have an established copyright interests in. It's not an "epic battle". The epic battle was fought and won in 2002.

Either way, it'll be good to get it wrapped up, and to get payment from McFarlane on the many things it's already been established that he owes, and to be able to write a couple of large cheques to some comics charities. And then forget all about it, once again.

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