The GeeksverseNEWS Round-up | Week of February 15, 2013

NEWS Round-up | Week of February 15, 2013
Published on Friday, February 15, 2013 by
A trademark bully gets thwarted, Don Rosa explains why he stopped drawing Disney comics, the Orson Scott Card/Adventures of Superman controversy, and more in this week’s News Round-up!

Fight back against trademark bullying

SpotstheSpaceMarine-CoverIf you’ve been following the Comixverse for some time, you probably know that nothing gets our hackles up quite like when the rights to free speech, free expression, and fair commerce are curtailed in the name of the fight to supposedly defend copyrights and intellectual property ownership. So even if the news story we’re about to recount only has a marginal association with comics, we hope you’ll read through the account all the same and reflect on what it means for us as consumers of fantastical fiction, for the people who make fantastical fiction, and the corporate entities who claim to own the established tropes and hallmarks that are part and parcel of the culture of fantastical fiction.

Last December, UK-based tabletop game maker Games Workshop managed to get Amazon to pull M.C.A. Hogarth’s book Spots the Space Marine from its site, complaining to the online retailer that Hogarth was infringing on its trademarks by using the term “space marine” in her work. (Games Workshop’s biggest seller is its Warhammer 40,000 series of games, which feature, among other playable factions, a group referred to as “Space Marines.”) Anybody familiar with the long history of the space marine trope in science-fiction can already see all sorts of problems with Games Workshop’s complaint. As Hogarth explained in a blog post dated 13 December, 2012:

Today I got an email from Amazon telling me they have stopped selling Spots the Space Marine because Games Workshop has accused me of infringement on their trademark of the word ‘space marine’.

If you go to the Trademarks Database and look up the word “space marine” you’ll find the Games Workshop owns a trademark on the term “space marine,” but it only covers the follow goods and services: IC 028. US 022. G & S: board games, parlor games, war games, hobby games, toy models and miniatures of buildings, scenery, figures, automobiles, vehicles, planes, trains and card games and paint, sold therewith.

Fiction isn’t included in that list, which means Games Workshop has no grounds on which to accuse me of trademark infringement.

I didn’t get my use of that term from Games Workshop. I got it from Robert Heinlein. Apparently the first use of the term was in 1932. E.E. Smith used it, among others. Also there are other novels on Amazon being sold that have “space marine” in the title. I don’t know why Games Workshop decided to complain about Spots in particular, but my guess is because the Kickstarter made it a little higher-profile than the average indie offering.

More than Games Workshop’s obvious attempt to over-extend the reach of its trademark claim to a domain which it does not apply, what is particularly appalling about this episode was the company’s audacity at trying to corner off a particular genre trope exclusively for itself by improper legal strong-arming and trademark bullying tactics. The term “space marines” had been in science-fiction use for over 50 years before Games Workshop even published its first game featuring its own spin on the term (1987’s Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader) and Games Workshop isn’t even the first game maker to use “space marine” in its character design and world-building glossary: Game Designers’ Workshop’s Traveller and FanTac’s Space Marines beat them to it by some ten years.

Space marines have long been a staple character design trope in science-fiction, from Bob Olsen's Space Marines short stories, to the space marines of E.E. Smith's Lensman series of books, to Starship Troopers' "Mobile Infantry" patterned by Robert Heinlein after the US Marine Corps.

Space marines have long been a staple character design trope in science-fiction (and have definitely been in popular use long before Games Workshop even existed), from Bob Olsen’s Space Marines short stories from the 1930s, to the space marines of E.E. Smith’s Lensman series of books, to Starship Troopers‘ powered armor-wearing “Mobile Infantry,” patterned by Robert Heinlein after the US Marine Corps.

Last week, Hogarth, at her wits’ end, posted an open call for help in her case on her blog (emphasis added our own):

To engage a lawyer to defend me from this spurious claim would cost more money than I have, certainly more than the book has ever earned me. Rather than earning money for my family, I’d be taking money from them, when previously my writing income paid for my daughter’s schooling. And I’d have to use the little time I have to write novels to fight a protracted legal battle instead.

In their last email to me, Games Workshop stated that they believe that their recent entrée into the e-book market gives them the common law trademark for the term “space marine” in all formats. If they choose to proceed on that belief, science fiction will lose a term that’s been a part of its canon since its inception. Space marines were around long before Games Workshop. But if GW has their way, in the future, no one will be able to use the term “space marine” without it referring to the space marines of the Warhammer 40K universe.

I used to own a registered trademark. I understand the legal obligations of trademark holders to protect their IP. A Games Workshop trademark of the term “Adeptus Astartes” is completely understandable. But they’ve chosen instead to co-opt the legacy of science fiction writers who laid the groundwork for their success. Even more than I want to save Spots the Space Marine, I want someone to save all space marines for the genre I grew up reading. I want there to be a world where Heinlein and E.E. Smith’s space marines can live alongside mine and everyone else’s, and no one has the hubris to think that they can own a fundamental genre trope and deny it to everyone else.

At this point I’m not sure what course to take. I interviewed five lawyers and all of them were willing to take the case, but barring the arrival of a lawyer willing to work pro bono, the costs of beginning legal action start at $2000 and climb into the five-figure realm when it becomes a formal lawsuit. Many of you don’t know me, so you don’t know that I write a business column/web comic for artists; wearing my business hat, it’s hard to countenance putting so much time and energy into saving a novel that hasn’t earned enough to justify it. But this isn’t just about Spots. It’s about science fiction’s loss of one of its foundational tropes.

The science-fiction community (Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton among them) rallied to Hogarth’s side, recognizing the dangerous precedent that would be established if Games Workshop had its way. Amazon, to its credit, reached out to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and after consultations with the non-profit digital rights group, decided to restore Spots the Space Marine to its virtual shelves.

Games Workshop isn’t the first company to resort to improper trademark threats and trademark bullying and it won’t be the last. As the EFF wrote on its website in a statement regarding its involvement in the dispute:

We’re pleased that Amazon did the right thing here, and that we were able to help. And we’re also pleased that so many internet users got involved to support Ms. Hogarth. Together, we sent a signal: Trademark bullies will not be tolerated online.

But the work is not yet done: this is just one instance of a much bigger “weakest link” problem that imperils online speech and commerce. Offline, most legal users can ignore improper trademark threats, because the bullies will probably have the good sense not to test the matter in court and have little recourse through third parties. In the Internet context, however, individuals and organizations rely on service providers to help them communicate with the world and sell their products and services (YouTube, Facebook, eBay, Amazon.com, etc.). A trademark complaint directed to one of those third-party providers can mean a fast and easy takedown – as it did here. After all, those providers usually don’t have the resources and/or the inclination to investigate trademark infringement claims – they’d rather stay “neutral.” As a result, a “neutral” provider generally means “you lose” to people facing bogus trademark claims. Moreover, because there is no counter-notice procedure, the targets of an improper takedown have no easy way to get their content back up even if they chose to fight.

We’ll close this item out by quoting Hogarth’s guest post on the EFF website (emphasis added our own):

[Spots the Space Marine] is now available on Amazon again, and I have the justice-seeking community of the Internet to thank for rallying behind me and the idea that anyone should be free to write a story about space marines or any other common term.

Please make a donation to EFF to support free speech and justice in intellectual property. I have been overwhelmed by how supportive the community has been and hope that together we can continue to protect indie authors and artists from legal bullying.

Don Rosa on why he left the comics industry

(h/t to Bleeding Cool) Artist Don Rosa has come to be almost as synonymous with Disney’s Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck comics as the legendary Carl Barks, not just in North America, but especially so in Europe and South America, where prolific, top-tier Disney comics artists like Rosa and Barks are held in the same high regard as, say, artists like Neal Adams and Jack Kirby are viewed in the more superhero-centric American comics community.

The Walt Disney Co. recently refused publisher Danish publisher Egmont permission to include Rosa’s “epilogue” to his Disney comics work in The Don Rosa Collection, but Egmont is providing a link to the essay where Rosa explains the difficulties Disney’s unique, multi-licensee work-for-hire system poses to freelancers and why he quit drawing Disney comics. Some excerpts from the epilogue (emphasis added our own):

don_rosaDisney comics have never been produced by the Disney company, but have always been created by freelance writers and artists working for licensed independent publishers, like Carl Barks working for Dell Comics, me working for Egmont, and hundreds of others working for numerous other Disney licensees. We are paid a flat rate per page by one publisher for whom we work directly. After that, no matter how many times that story is used by other Disney publishers around the world, no matter how many times the story is reprinted in other comics, album series, hardback books, special editions, etc., etc., no matter how well it sells, we never receive another cent for having created that work. That’s the system Carl Barks worked in and it’s the same system operating today.

How can such an archaic system still be in operation in the 21st Century when royalties have been paid in other creative publishing endeavors for literally centuries? All book authors, musicians, actors, singers, non-Disney cartoonists, even people who act in TV commercials… they all receive royalties if success warrants it. Even Disney pays normal royalties to creators and performers in its own movie and TV and book and music businesses…

… Then the publishers took the next inevitable step. A new reprint album of my Scrooge McDuck adventures was not to be titled “SCROOGE McDUCK” #1, but “DON ROSA” #1. The annual “DONALD DUCK CALENDAR” was to become the annual “DON ROSA CALENDAR”. And publishers did not even bother to notify me when they published such all-Rosa products using my name

donrosa2003calendarWhat I did was hire a lawyer, at no small expense, and copyright my name across Europe and South America. Disney publishers certainly had every right to use my comic stories — those were Disney property. But my name is not Disney property – it is my property. I was not so much annoyed that I was not receiving royalties on products sold using my name, but I had no quality control over the presentations. Often the wrong scripts were used at the whim of an editor or translator, often the wrong pages of art were used on continued stories, or there were coloring errors, etc.

I did not ask for royalties. I decided to ask simply for an annual fee for the use of my name to sell products. I sought advice from a European representatives of authors and artists and asked how much I should demand from Egmont each year. I was given the agent’s opinion of a fair fee. So, since my intention was mainly to show that I wanted some sort of control over the use of my name and the presentation of my work, the fee I quoted to Egmont was exactly half of the fee the agent recommended. I figured that way I was showing Egmont I was serious, but not trying to gouge them.

My publisher Egmont immediately agreed! I suppose they were simply waiting for me to say something. After all, they are a big company… in fact, a non-profit charitable organization… so why would they offer me a fee until I demanded it? Everyone I’ve ever met at Egmont, actually everyone I’ve ever met at any worldwide Disney-licensed publishing company, are all wonderfully nice folks. Many have become dear friends. I don’t hold them personally responsible for being part of that system. They didn’t create it and I know they don’t personally approve of it (how could anyone?). Oh — and it should definitely be noted that, in return for my cooperation on this superb book series, Egmont offers me a “consideration” based on sales, which is the first time I have been offered that by any Publisher.

With the non-Egmont publishers it is a different story. I let them know that they could no longer publish the all-Rosa albums and books using my name to promote them unless they had my permission. All they had to do was ask. But they would not.

… to this day, that’s why you see all-Rosa book series in France, Brazil, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece and Indonesia (and probably other countries I haven’t found out about) which are attributed to an “anonymous” author, though those publishers all know that my fans will still recognize my weird art without my name on the cover. Still, they cannot use my annotated texts or other extra materials that I wish fans could see. But as long as they don’t exploit my name to sell their products, I have no grievance against them publishing books of my work…

… I thank Carl Barks for creating the comics that I loved so much that I serendipitously fell into the blessed work of paying homage to those great comics for over 20 years. And I thank you for receiving that work so graciously and making me feel very special… until they broke my spirit.

But if you’ll excuse me… I think I’ll now go back to being only a fan.

University of Illinois researcher pokes holes in Seduction of the Innocent

Seduction_of_the_InnocentAs we first noted earlier this week,  a researcher and instructor at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science has uncovered evidence that the late psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham distorted and outright falsified much of the data that appeared in his landmark work Seduction of the Innocent, the sensationalistic, proto-pop psychology book that helped fuel the government-led anti-comics crusade of the mid-1950s that ultimately drove publishers to self-censor their publications via the now-discarded Comics Code.

In a paper entitled “Comics: A Once-Missed Opportunity,” Assistant Professor of Information Science Carol Tilley documents numerous instances where Wertham re-worded, re-organized, and just plain made-up accounts by children and teens to support his thesis that comic books significantly contributed to juvenile delinquency.

Why did this only come to light now? Wertham died in 1981, but his archives, housed at the Library of Congress, were only made available to researchers in 2010.

Johns to leave Green Lantern, and so is everybody else, apparently

johns_leaving_bannerAfter a nine-year run, DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns will be stepping down from working on Green Lantern (Associated Press via Yahoo!). And as Bleeding Cool reports, so are many of the current creators on Green Lantern-related titles: Green Lantern Corps writer Peter Tomasi and artist Fernando Pasarin,  New Guardians writer Tony Bedard, and Red Lanterns scribe Peter Milligan will all be leaving their respective books in May. Johns will focus on Justice League of America, set to relaunch with a massive variant cover event next week. No official word yet on where the other ex-Lantern creatives will land.

Garth Ennis on Dynamite’s Red Team

RedTeam1

Garth Ennis (Preacher, Punisher MAXThe Boys)  talks up Dynamite’s Red Team in a discussion with CBR. An excerpt:

I wrote my ‘Punisher Max’ run in as believable a way as possible, I hope — but we’re still talking about a vigilante who’s somehow survived a downright lethal existence for years, often taking down fairly larger than life characters. So I thought, ‘What if someone really, genuinely had a go at it?’ And cops seemed to me to be the logical starting point: They’d have the motivation, because their job would provide all manner of unimaginable frustrations, and they’d have the expertise and the resources to do the job. Or at least, a highly professional surveillance and strike unit like Red Team would.

Red Team #1 hit store shelves last week.

Warner Bros. successfully sues Batmobile replica maker

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lew of the Central District of California ruled in favor of Warner Bros. in their lawsuit against professional car customizer Mark Towle, whose Gotham Garage made replicas of the 1966 and 1989 Batmobiles (via Hollywood Reporter).

In his 54-page ruling—which can be read in its entirety here (PDF file)—Judge Lew concluded that the Batmobile is a character in its own right, covered by the same copyright protections afforded the Batman property, and that Towle’s “copying of the two-dimensional Batmobile character, which appeared in the 1989 film, the 1966 television series, and the comic books, into three-dimensional forms is copyright infringement.”

Besides making a replica of the 1966 TV Batmobile (left), Towle's Gotham Garage also built a replica of the 1989 movie Batmobile (center) and the 1966 TV Batboat (right). A replica of the Batmobile seen in 1995's Batman Forever was also in the planning stages while the lawsuit was being deliberated. [Click on image to view in larger size]

Besides making a replica of the 1966 TV Batmobile (left), Towle’s Gotham Garage also built a replica of the 1989 movie Batmobile (center) and the 1966 TV Batboat (right). A replica of the Batmobile seen in 1995’s Batman Forever was also in the planning stages while the lawsuit was being deliberated. [Click on image to view in larger size]

This case sets an important precedent that has potentially devastating implications for amateur car customizers and professional fabricators everywhere who’ve made unofficial Batmobile replicas.

Rep. John Lewis’ March trilogy to debut this summer

Top Shelf Productions recently announced that March: Book One—the first installment in a planned trilogy of autobiographical graphic novels written by civil rights activist and current congressman John Lewis (Georgia, 5th District) and Andrew Aydin, featuring art by Eisner Award-winning writer-artist Nate Powell (Swallow Me, The Silence of our Friends)—will hit store shelves on 13 August 2013 and will retail for $14.95.

From the press release:

march_coverMarch is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights (including his key roles in the historic 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma-Montgomery March), meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

The first volume, March (Book One), will appear in stores everywhere on August 13, 2013. Two weeks later, America will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom.

Throughout the year, Lewis and his co-creators will travel across the country to promote the book, including featured keynote appearances at BookExpo America in New York, the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Chicago, and Comic-Con International in San Diego.

March is a historic first, both for the U.S. Congress and for comics publishing as a whole, marking the first time a sitting member of Congress has authored a graphic novel. Top Shelf Productions is the first and only graphic novel publisher to be certified by the House Committee on Standards.

In March, a true American icon joins with one of America’s most acclaimed graphic novelists. Together, they bring to life one of our nation’s most historic moments, a period both shameful and inspiring, and a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.

Preorder information and a 14-page preview of March: Book One can be viewed here.

Vancouver Fan Expo venue and guest list updates

Tia Carrere, Tom Welton, Robin Dunne, Elvira, Amanda Tapping, and the Soska Sisters have recently been confirmed as attending Fan Expo Vancouver 2013, to be held April 20–21 at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The two-day event will be moved to the East side of the Convention Centre in anticipation of larger crowds (organizers estimate that last year’s Fan Expo saw 17,000 attendees and expect more this year).

Day one line-ups at last year's Fan Expo Vancouver stretched for several blocks [Click to view in larger size]

Day one line-ups at last year’s Fan Expo Vancouver stretched for several blocks [Click to view in larger size]

Stan Lee is still slated to attend the show despite recent precautionary health measures leading him to cancel con appearances in Arizona and Florida.

Click here for a current visual listing of the Expo’s comics, anime, and celebrity guests.

We personally can’t wait to see how the deluge of cosplayers will affect the annual 4/20 “celebrations” in downtown Vancouver and vice-versa. The results should be epic.

On the Orson Scott Card/Adventures of Superman controversy

adventures_of_superman_banner

We pretty much expected something like the current media firestorm over science-fiction author Orson Scott Card’s hiring on Adventures of Superman to erupt when we first reported on the book’s reveal last week.

As regular News Round-up readers may or may not know, Card has been quite the vocal opponent of gay and lesbian rights for many years now. In an essay published in The Mormon Times in 2008, Card wrote that:

Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

Card also has a curious (to say the least!) explanation for the origins of homosexual behavior, writing in a 2004 essay that:

The dark secret of homosexual society—the one that dares not speak its name—is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.

Yeesh.

Anyway, as expected, there’s been the usual Internet uproar over this whole thing. Petitions calling for Card’s firing and counter-petitions have been launched, Twitter skirmishes have been waged, some retailers have announced boycotts of the book, pundits have been burning the midnight oil cranking out thinkpieces, that sort of stuff. There’s also a hilarious parodic take online on how Card’s first issue might look like.

global_warming_or_gay_marriage

DC Comics has defended the hiring of Card in a statement released Wednesday saying that:

As content creators we steadfastly support freedom of expression, however the personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that—personal views—and not those of the company itself.

Writer Mark Millar, who’s made a sport of trolling DC online, actually backed DC in this regard, posting on Twitter that

millar_tweet_card

Of course, the argument can perhaps be made that Card’s publicly hostile stance against the gay and lesbian community and those who support them isn’t so much a “social view” as it is an incitement to hate. But making that distinction is no simple matter for all sorts of reasons that involve the freedom of speech and expression.

Ultimately, we find ourselves agreeing with and echoing the sentiments expressed by openly-gay comics writer Jim McCann to USA Today:

A company has the right to hire whomever they choose … and Mr. Card has the right under the First Amendment to freely speak his beliefs, no matter how hateful and archaic they may be. In turn, however, the fans have the same right to express their disappointment and outrage against his hiring.

In case you missed them…

We posted two new previews this week:

We also have new reviews of Dark Horse’s Alice in Wonderland, Alabaster: Wolves, Rex Mundi Omnibus, Vol. 2, and Image Comics’ Debris and Tales from Beyond Science:

That’s your NEWS Round-up for this week. Until next time, don’t forget to READ BETWEEN THE HYPE!
2 Responses
    • My chances of getting a Batmobile are getting slimmer? I’d rather buy a replica Batmobile than a a Bat themed Kia.

      Dan Rosa still draws a great duck. He has been at the last few Charlotte Comic Cons and spends the day steadily doodling ducks for folks. He’ll only draw his generation of ducks which is a shame because I just want to see his take on Darkwing Duck. Although I appreciate why he only wants to do his generation of ducks and not touch anything else from Disney. It is a shame that they are reprinting Rosa editions, completely using his name as the sales hook, and not paying him.

      Dan Rosa needs a Destroyer Duck sort of book. I wish Image, IDW, or one of the smaller companies need to do a book drawn by Dan Rosa and make the man gets paid.Of course, I think Gary Freidriech should work out something similar. I’d like to see the remaining classic creators getting a chance to work again and be paid. It’d have to be better than just working the convention table circuit.

    • […] ‣ Tuomas Holopainen, keyboardist for the popular Finnish prog-metal band Nightwish, to create a concept album based on Don Rosa’s graphic novel The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Set for an April 15 release, Music Inspired by The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck will feature an album cover illustrated by Rosa. (A.V. Club) The Eisner, Harvey, and Haxtur Award-winning Rosa publicly announced his retirement from professional comics work last year, stating that the licensing system used for his Disney comics work, which allowed licensees to use his name and work with minimal financial considerations and creative input, “broke [his] spirit.” […]

Advertisements

Connect With Us!
The Geeksverse on Instagram
Recent Comments