Archivio dei testi con tag 'copyright office'



Shutdown del Governo Federale americano: chiuso il Copyright Office

Non è uno scherzo: non tutti sanno che – tra le tante attività congelate dal blocco parziale della spesa federale negli Stati Uniti – c’è anche il Copyright Office.
Sarà sfuggito alla lobby pro-Copyright così largamente presente tra le file dei Repubblicani, ma proprio il partito che in maniera aggressiva ha spesso difeso gli interessi dell’industria della proprietà intellettuale, non si è reso conto di aver inceppato anche la macchina della tutela del copyright. Continua…

Gary Friedrich vs. Marvel: is Ghost Rider in the Public Domain?

In 2007 comic book writer Gary Friedrich sued Marvel, Columbia Pictures, Sony and a long list of other companies over ownership of “Ghost Rider”, comic book character he created, with art by Mike Ploog, that appeared first on Marvel Spotlight #5, in 1972.

marvelspotlight5

Ploog had been hired by Marvel to draw Friedrich’s creation: according to Friedrich, he gave Ploog indications on how the character should have looked, thus making Friedrich more than a “co-creator” of the character. This was reflected in the original comic book credits:

ghostrider01

Friedrich claimed ownership of the character that has supposedly “reverted” to him in 2001. This meant particularly getting a fair share of royalties from movie adaptations of the character. Marvel countersued in 2010 since Friedrich was selling Ghost Rider merchandising online and at comic book conventions.
Finally, Friedrich had to apparently surrender to Marvel last year, being ordered to pay $17,000 in damages to the publisher, renouncing to further advertising himself as Ghost Rider creator and stopping the sale of any related merchandise.

One year later, it seems Friedrich’s case will go back to trial: on June 11, 2013, Second Circuit Court of Appeals judge Denny Chin overturned the original decision:

The district court held as a matter of law that plaintiff-counter-defendant-appellant Gary Friedrich assigned any rights he retained in the renewal term of the 1972 Ghost Rider copyrights to the predecessor of defendant-counter-claimant-appellee Marvel Characters, Inc. in a 1978 form work-for-hire contract. We conclude that – 4 –the contract language is ambiguous and that genuine disputes of material fact, as to the parties’ intent and other issues, preclude the granting of judgment as a matter of law.

While judge Chin made interesting statements about the contract language and the fact that a 1978 work-for-hire contract could regulate something that had been created and published 6 years before, it seems something is still missing in all this absurd story.

Judge Chin also says:

The first Ghost Rider comic was published in Marvel Spotlight, Vol. 1, No. 5 (“Spotlight 5”) in April 1972, bearing a copyright notice in favor of “Magazine Management Co., Inc. Marvel Comics Group.”

Here is a scan of the copyright notice on the first page of the comic book:

ghostrider02

Before 1989, the U.S., a missing (or wrong) copyright notice would have meant instantly falling into the public domain.
All sorts of popular works, from “Night of the Living Dead” to adult movie “Debbie Does Dallas” suffered issues like that.
The comic book had a copyright notice, at least.

But in those days, before copyright law changed in 1978 and the old 28-years renewal system disappeared, Copyright Office registration was mandatory.

Searching for post-1978 copyrighted works today is easy: it just requires a visit to Copyright.gov’s search page.

Searching for older works or their renewal notices is often more difficult. But it does not require physically visiting some office in the U.S.; many of the records are carefully scanned and archived at Archive.org.
By searching the catalogues at Internet Archive, what we get is the “Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third Series, Volume 26, Part 2” containing records about “Periodicals, January—December 1972”.

Here is the relevant info about Marvel Spotlight:

MARVEL SPOTLIGHT. © Magazine Management
Co., Inc., Marvel Comics Group,
v.l, no .

3, May72. © 23Nov71; B718327-

4, Jun72. © 29Feb; B739641.

6, 0ct72. © 27Jun; B767424.

7, Dec72. © 22Aug; B779223-

Marvel Spotlight #5 was never properly filed with the Copyright Office, and thus never properly copyrighted.

Let’s move onto the previously mentioned Copyright.gov.

In 2007, Gary Friedrich tried to file a renewal to the Ghost Rider issue:

Type of Work: Text
Registration Number / Date: RE0000929199 / 2007-02-26
Renewal registration for: Not reg.; addedendum submitted under PL
102-307. / PUB 1972-04-30
Title: Ghost rider.
Series: Marvel spotlight ; vol. 1, no. 5
Copyright Claimant: Gary E. Friedrich (A)
Copyright Note: C.O. correspondence.
Names: Friedrich, Gary E.

Normally, a renewal request carries the number of a previous copyright registration: it basically says you are applying to extend copyright of a certain work.
Note the absurd line: “Renewal registration for: Not reg.”. There is no number here.
How could one “renew” something that was never registered in first place? And why “renew” it since no renewal was necessary under the current American copyright law?

Three years later, in 2010, even Marvel tried to “renew” something that could not be renewed, filing this:

Type of Work: Text
Registration Number / Date: RE0000931110 / 2010-12-13
Renewal registration for: Not reg.; Addendum submitted under PL
102-307. / PUB 1972-04-25
Title: Marvel Spotlight. Vol. 1, no. 5, Aug. 1972 / Artwork & text
for cover and interior story pages, including the Ghost Rider logo on
the cover by Magazine Management Company, Inc.
Copyright Claimant: Marvel Characters, Inc. (PWH)
Names: Magazine Management Company, Inc.
Marvel Characters, Inc.

They don’t even seem to agree on the date of publication. Both renewal requests mention “PL 102-307”. It stands for Public Law 102-307, Copyright Amendments Act of 1992.

Among other provisions, this law says:

Any copyright, the first term of which is subsisting on January 1, 1978, shall endure for 28 years from the date it was originally secured.

This means no renewal is needed, provided you have “secured” a copyright, originally, and it was still effective on January 1, 1978. But nowhere it says you could recreate a copyright for something that was not properly registered.
Finally, the fact that the work-for-hire contract between Marvel and Friedrich was signed AFTER January 1, 1978 might create further argument for a funny “legal short circuit”.

Let’s go back for a moment to the attempts Friedrich and Marvel did at registering the work with the Copyright Office. Let’s say their lawyers might argue: okay, if we could not renew, we could still be registering a new copyright.

Good idea. But the timeframe to do so, according to the current U.S. copyright law, ended in year 2000.

As we saw, Marvel Spotlight #5 appeared in 1972 and had a copyright notice in favor of Magazine Management co.; according to Circular 22 (“How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work”, rev.02/2013, page 3) issued by the Copyright Office,

Works published with notice prior to 1978 may be registered at any time within the first 28-year term“.

A couple other facts on the “Ghost Rider” copyright and trademark:

Marvel recycled a public domain character that originally belonged to Magazine Enterprises, after the original copyright and trademark had lapsed. The Marvel version, later renamed “Phantom Rider” after the appearance of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider in 1972, was co-created by Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas and Dick Ayers. The name Phantom Rider wasn’t exactly original, too.
– In 1971, Gary Friedrich created a vigilante motorcyclist character called Hell-Rider, that appeared in two 64-page issues for defunct Skywald Publications. it also seems nobody registered it with the Copyright Office. Neither before 1978, nor within the following 28 years timeframe. Oh well.

hell-rider

Confused? I am too.

In conclusion, Marvel, Sony, Columbia and others may not have to pay millions in royalties to Mr. Friedrich. But surely I don’t see why he should be paying damages to anyone for reusing a Public Domain character.

p.s.: free legal advice. In a somewhat similar case, porn movie distributors VCX and Arrow settled out of Court, before a judge could state what the rest of the world already knows (and another judge actually stated in part at the end of the 1980s). That the works they were fighting for, had fallen in the Public Domain.

Peer-to-Peer, Pirates, Public Domain… and chic Porn. aka: Debbie Does Dallas? It’s in the Public Domain.

Copyright and the Porn Industry: a match made in hell.
It seems the adult-oriented industry (whether it was Playboy Magazine vs. Italian 1970s not-exactly-a-clone Playmen, which had a second match about online sites in 1996, or adult majors vs. pirating internet websites) has always had great interest in the copyright debate.
In the past decades, an XXX movie studio or adult mag publisher has often had a better vision of things evolving in the copyright field, than their counterparts in “legitimate” and more “respectable” businesses like the music industry or mainstream moviemaking and book publishing. Or so it seemed.

One of the new p2p lawsuits hitting “John Does” (unknown users) allegedly sharing unauthorized material on peer-to-peer networks is about a classic porn movie. And a particularly important one: “Debbie Does Dallas”, distributed by VCX, which is responsible for the lawsuit.
“Debbie” is not only a porn classic; the movie, and things that surround it – including the myth of “disappeared” actress Bambi Woods – seems to be a piece of pop culture, which even resulted in an Off-Broadway musical, in recent years.
So, what apparently is happening is that VCX is finally enforcing their copyright on one of the most important adult movies ever made.
Nothing new or exciting, in that.

But this recent event (the news about the lawsuit are dated September 1, 2010) brings to memory another lawsuit from last year.
Between two adult “majors”: Arrow and VCX.

Basically, VCX was distributing DVD copies of another porn classic: “Deep Throat”. Arrow stated they owned the trademark and other trademarks connected (note: the lawsuit is about trademark, not copyrights…).
Arrow, on the other side, distributes “Debbie” and “The Devil in Miss Jones”. VCX seems to have claims on both.
Before anyone says, “ok, but this is crap that was produced more than 30 years ago, who has still interest in these?” it has to be said that all of these titles still generate nice profits for their distributors.

Now the horrible, horrible truth.
Speaking about the Arrow/VCX case, the Las Vegas Sun, in 2009, also quoting trademark attorney Ryan Gile, suggested that maybe these movies are in the public domain, and that the above mentioned companies despite the fight aren’t willing to have a judge rule that any of these is entirely non-copyrighted.

We did a quick check.
Debbie Does Dallas”? Seems to have been released without proper copyright notice. Pre-1989. It’s Public Domain. It has shortly appeared on Archive.org on September 6, 2010. Removed after a few hours because porn is not allowed there, not because of the copyright status, apparently. So much for the VCX/John Does case; a judge will have a lot of fun very soon.

“Deep Throat”?
1972 release. Like “The Devil in Miss Jones” (1973) it was never properly registered with the Copyright Office until 1978. A search in the records at Copyright.gov shows that both titles were registered June 27, 1978 together with a third – and more obscure – film from 1974, “Wet Rainbow”.
This should already be enough for it to fall in the Public Domain: before 1976, registration was mandatory, and you could not register the work at a later time.

It was only in 1976 that US law changed and did not consider anymore Copyright Office registration as a mandatory element for copyright to exist.
As for copyright notices for “Deep Throat”: at least for the copy we were able to see, the 1972 version – whether publicly screened or not (because some argue about this point, since initial screenings of the movie were controlled by the mob-linked family that financed it…) – apparently never had a proper copyright notice. One was added later for home video release (and seemed unreadable in a copy we watched, but it is probably “1981”) but the movie had already been out for ages at that point.

Funnily, VCX added a black screen with copyright information at the end of the DVD version; they must have a perculiar view of Roman numerals, because whatever they intended to type, that reads as “1907”.
Now, as we know, in 1907 Linda Lovelace (and full colour cinema) wasn’t even born, and the movie was made decades later.
But, if someone decided to use this 1907 date as a way to cover the copyright, that would be a very bad idea.
Anything pre-1923 is Public Domain anyway, according to the crazy, complicated, many times manipulated US Copyright Law.

This last bit should be enough to clear the Arrow/VCX case too. Am I wrong?

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