Comic Book Titans Clash Over Copyright Issues

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Copyright infringement fights are nothing new in the world of comic books. Now comes the most epic clash yet, featuring two of the industry's biggest titans, Neil Gaiman and Todd MacFarlane, battling it out over the rights to specific characters.

Gaiman is the bigger star, thanks to steady sales of his classic comics series, Sandman, and his bestselling Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book and Coraline. But in the 1990s, MacFarlane was no slouch: his comic series Spawn led to a 1997 film adaptation that grossed nearly $100 million worldwide, a line of action figures and an HBO series. Back when Spawn was launching, he and Gaiman collaborated on creating three supporting characters: Medieval Spawn; Angela, a red-haired angel; and Cogliostro, a one-time Spawn ally.

The Brawl: The Backstory

By 2002, Gaiman wanted his share of proceeds on the characters he helped create, so he sued MacFarlane in federal court and won. Two years later the ruling was upheld on appeal by Judge Richard Posner, with one caveat: McFarlane's must acknowledge Gaiman's co-ownership.

Gaiman and MacFarlane have spent much of the past decade hashing out exactly what these characters are worth and what Gaiman's fair share is, but they are nowhere near settling on a dollar figure. Now Gaiman's launched a new battle, reports the Associated Press, for proceeds on three additional characters deemed to be derivative of the original three he co-created.

At a federal hearing in Wisconsin on Monday, Gaiman testified that he sees no difference between Dark Ages Spawn and Medieval Spawn, a character he co-created nearly two decades ago. "It looks like the same kind of thing," said Gaiman when shown an image of Dark Ages Spawn.

"Our view is McFarlane just took some of the characters Neil was a co-creator of and just gave them different names," Gaiman's attorney, Allen Arntsen, told the AP. "It's a matter of principle." But court filings by MacFarlane's lawyers say the characters are distinctive, even if they bear "superficial qualities" to characters Gaiman helped create.

The Wisconsin Journal reported last month that U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, who is holding the hearing, sided with Gaiman in a written opinion. Even if Crabb backs up her viewpoint and rules in Gaiman's favor on these additional characters, the likelihood of his seeing more money anytime soon is even slimmer than the chance of a Spawn movie sequel -- it's languished in development hell longer than Gaiman and MacFarlane's legal battle.
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