Comic Book Creator Takes Battle to U.S. Supreme Court

Image credit: Susan SkaarAt the end of March, Jack Kirby’s descendants took their legal battle against Marvel Comics to the next level by filing a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Jack “King” Kirby is one of the most well-known figures in the history of comic books, known for creating and co-creating iconic characters such as the X-Men, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. 

Kirby’s estate has been fighting in a battle that began in early 2010 for the termination of an earlier transfer of ownership in copyrights to the characters that Kirby helped create and still maintain large amounts of popularity, as well as profit-generation. 

Termination Rights: The Works Made for Hire Exception

The Copyright Act of 1976 contains a provision known as “termination rights.”  Termination rights have become more and more popular as we have just recently started reaching the thirty-five-year mark for many copyrights registered following the 1976 Act.  In 17 U.S.C. 304(c) and (d), artists are given the ability terminate their transfer rights – effectively allowing them to reclaim ownership of their copyrighted works thirty-five years after transferring them to another party.  Congress intended this to provide original creators and their heirs the ability to recover rights that might have been assigned or licensed based upon the previous provisions of the Copyright Act.

A Lesson In Contract Drafting: eBook Deal Violates Publisher’s Copyright

American Graffiti movie poster.Star Wars taught me the importance of contract drafting.  No, seriously!  I was reading for an Entertainment Law course two years ago when I came across a case from the 1980s involving Lucasfilm, LTD and Platinum Record, Co.  The lawsuit centered around a dispute over a contract which allowed director George Lucas to use four popular songs in his film American Graffiti, first released in 1973The issue in the case didn’t arise until almost a decade later, when MCA Distributing Corp. (an affiliate of Universal) released the film for sale and to rent on videocassette, which Platinum Record argued was in violation of their contract.

By this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with ebooks (or Star Wars, for that matter).  Well, last week U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald held that a 2011 ebook distribution deal signed by author Jean George violated an earlier, 1971 contract.  The 1971 contract granted publisher HarperCollins the right to publish the children’s book Julie of the Wolves in “book form” and “electronic means now known or hereinafter invented.”  This language in the contract is what caught my eye and provides an important lesson in contract drafting: think ahead.

#IPLSpring CLE Preview: From the Inside Looking Out: An In-House Counsel Perspective on US International Trade Commission Investigations

Credit: U.S. International Trade CommissionWait! Don’t leave! One of the capstone CLE events of the 28th Annual Intellectual Property Law Conference in Arlington, VA this year covers the topic of Section 337 investigations. The CLE session will take place on Friday, April 5th, from 3:30 PM until 5:00 PM in Salon IV of the Arlington Ballroom. Plus, the program is eligible for ethics credit!

Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 is used most often in the area of intellectual property to prohibit the unfair methods of competition or other unfair acts in the importation of goods into the United States. Claims include allegations of patent infringement and trademark infringement by imported goods.

#IPLSpring CLE Preview: Copyright: Copyright Infringement in Patent Prosecution: Might Your Firm Be the Next Litigation Target?

We are less than a week away from the ABA’s 28th Annual Intellectual Property Law Conference in Arlington, VA! There will be over 30 Continuing Legal Education credit sessions, some eligible for ethics credit, in addition to multiple networking events. I will be covering one of the sessions on Copyright called “Copyright Infringement in Patent Prosecution: Might Your Firm Be the Next Litigation Target?” at 8:30 AM in the Arlington Salons 5 and 6.

5 Attorneys on 5 Entertainment Contract Essentials

Image Credit: frank3.0 on FlickrIn the world of entertainment contracts it can be next to impossible to comprehend the legalese without a thorough understanding of the law. Yet, there must be some essential points to an entertainment contract that all creative people should know about, right?

In searching for an answer to the “essential points” question, I decided to poll five prominent entertainment attorneys from across the country and ask them! Here’s what I discovered:

Can Fair Use Save Imaginationland in Latest ‘South Park’ Lawsuit?

Another lawsuit against Comedy Central’s hit show South Park could lead to a dead end. The focus of this post is to examine the fair use defense instead of the lack of similarity or likelihood that South Park was specifically referencing Exavier Wardlaw’s The Lollipop Forest.

1: What Exactly Is Going On?

The Lollipop King from South Park.On Tuesday, October 2, 2012, Exavier Wardlaw filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania naming South Park Studios, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone as defendants. Wardlaw alleges copyright infringement by the South Park executives through the use of the “Lollipop King” character in a three-episode story arc entitled Imaginationland. The episodes aired on Comedy Central in October 2007. The complaint lists the airing of the episodes as 2009, which might have been based on re-runs instead of the initial premiere.

Wardlaw created a “dramatic work and music; or choreography” called ‘Navah and Nasim and The Lollipop Forest” in 2005 according to a behind-the-scenes YouTube video and U.S. Copyright Office filing. Wardlaw filmed the work which he then put on YouTube. The copyright in the musical/ play was officially registered on March 7, 2006. You can click here and search “PAu003048246” as the “Registration Number” to see the copyright registration. Imaginationland was registered with the U.S. Copyright office on October 31, 2007, the air date of the final episode in the story arc (See registration PA0001590750).

South Park Studios combined all three episodes to release the feature-length version of ‘Imaginationland’ in 2008 and also won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.