The week saw a scaled down direct-to-video sequel to 2002’s “epic legal battle” between Todd McFarlane and Neil Gaiman for copyrights to characters Gaiman created in an issue of SPAWN. Out of all the press reports we’ve seen, Gaiman’s own account, blogged today, is by far the most clear and accurate — well, he is a beloved author after all — and it makes clear that character rights were not the issue this time. What consitutes derivative works was and what the profits from the original characters was, is:
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.
Lawyers for McFarlane and Gaiman have since been trying to figure out how much McFarlane owes Gaiman. In the meantime, Gaiman’s lawyers at Foley & Lardner are seeking co-ownership rights for an additional three characters, arguing that those three are derivative of the three Gaiman co-created. On Monday, Judge Barbara Crabb heard from both sides. Gaiman argued that similarities between the six characters are not incidental. McFarlane, however, said that they’re similar only in that they belong to the same Spawn universe.
Brian Holguin, writer of Dark Ages Spawn, also testified, stating that that character is not related to Medieval Spawn.
For his part, McFarlane tweeted:
COMMENT: Nearly all lawsuit against me or my companies have been driven by an ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyer looking to hit the lottery.
Gaiman links to the decision in the 2002 case, which is actually a very interesting document in many ways, and when you have some time deserves a read through.
Times change tangential: When the first trial went on back in the fall of 2002, The Beat vividly recalls that the Pulse, which we were writing for, CBG and ICv2 were among a handful of outlets covering the story. Milton Griepp and Maggie Thompson were in the courtroom and we were watching at home, and adding legal commentary from various experts. Now a Google news search turns up hundreds of results for this minor scuffle. What changed more — Gaiman and McFarlane’s relative levels of fame or the nature of online media?
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.