Uh, uh, looks like maybe Dynamite should have entitled its Barsoomian comics “Master of the Male Wedgie” and not Dejah Thoris and so on, because ERB, Inc., the family-owned corporation which controls existing trademarks to the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, is suing Dynamite, Dynamic Forces, and Savage Tales Entertainment for trademark infringement and unfair competition over Dynamite’s publication of books entitled “Lord of the Jungle,” “Warlord of Mars,” “Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris”, and “Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom” based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs originals.
021612 Tarzan Suit
The complaint is reproduced in full above, and makes interesting reading for everyone who’s been all about IP and copyright talk over the last few weeks. The John Carter books—soon coming to the screen as a major motion picture from Disney/Pixar—and the Tarzan books were first published a century ago and the first books in both series are now in the public domain—but only in the US. As the lawsuit notes, in the UK, Dynamite’s books infringe existing copyrights, and ERB, Inc. has been able to successfully prosecute copyright infringement in Europe before.
According to the suit, Dynamite’s Nick Barrucci approached ERB Inc several years ago re the licenses, but was rebuffed. However, he’s since established an entire line of Barsoom comics and a new Tarzan book as well, based on the material that is in the public domain.
ERB, Inc., which was created in 1923 to manage the already expanding media empire of Burroughs’ immensely popular works, still owns the trademarks to the characters, including Tarzan, John Carter, and Barsoom. They claim “common law” rights to the titles “Lord of the Jungle” and “Warlord of Mars,” both actual titles of Burroughs books. You can’t copyright a title, but ERB, Inc. still owns the copyrights to both books. Similarly they have trademarked both “Barsoom” and “Dejah Thoris,” and claim the Dynamite book WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS and other spin-offs violate their trademark.
In addition, they claim the Dynamite titles contain inappropriate material: that something called the “Risqué Nude” cover variants feature nude Dejah Thoris—and other covers are “near pornographic.” Clearly these ERB, Inc. people have eyes in their head.
This is going to be a pretty meaty case. The great icons of the 20th century are beginning to come into the public domain; this isn’t going to be an isolated case.
Licensed Tarzan and John Carter comics have been coming out from Dark Horse and Marvel in anticipation of the movie, which opens March 9th. Although the John Carter brand has been heating up in the comics realm, as ICv2 points out,the tracking on the film is not good. Deadline claims the film could be “Disney’s biggest write-off of all time.” While John Carter fans—such as The Beat—have been hoping for a movie version all their lives, it appears that the pre-awareness of the brand is very low. The ads for the movie look fairly generic thus far. While Pixar has had the magic touch, and the film is a labor of love for director Andrew Stanton, they’re going to need every ounce of the marketing howitzer that’s about to kick in to sell the film.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.