Judge rules McFarlane must pay Gaiman for derivative characters

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US District Judge Judge Barbara Crabb has made a decision following the June court appearance by Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane over profits for the characters Dark Ages Spawn, Tiffany and Domina. Gaiman held that these cast-members of the Spawn-i-verse were derivative of Medieval Spawn and Angela (characters that he co-owns, as ruled after the epic 2002 court battle), thus he was entitled to half the profits from these characters. McFarlane held the opposite and had refused to provide information on the profits.

Judge Crabb sided with Gaiman, citing the similarity of the characters in a decision (readable here) which shows she spent a lot of time reading up on Spawn:

Both Medieval (Gaiman) Spawn and Dark Ages (McFarlane) Spawn committed bad deeds in the past for which they want to make amends, both have sisters whom they loved who married men who were or became the Hellspawn’s enemies; both made a deal with the devil to let them return to Earth; and both use their powers to help the defenseless. The two characters are visually similar: both wear metal helmets and face masks with rivets; both ride horses and carry oversized swords and battle shields; both have armor shoulder pads with spikes. Both have aspects of the first Al Simmons Spawn: a “neural parasite cloak,” a particularly shaped face mask, green eyes and a red “M” on the chest.
[snip]
Tiffany and Domina are visually similar to Angela and share her same basic traits. All three are warrior angels with voluptuous physiques, long hair and mask-like eye makeup. All three wear battle uniforms consisting of thong bikinis, garters, wide weapon belts, elbow- length gloves and ill-fitting armor bras. Angela and Domina each wear a long cloth draped between their legs and a winged headdress. Tiffany and Angela are shown in the Spawn Bible as having sharp wings. Tr. exh. 16 at 9, 20. All three of these female characters are warrior angels who fight in the war between Heaven and Hell. When plaintiff conceived of Angela, he saw her as part of an army of 300,000 “female, kick-ass warrior angels, who are hunters, merciless and not very nice.” Hrg. Trans., dkt. #311, at 16. Tiffany and Domina are part of this same heavenly army.


While McFarlane contended that writer Brian Holguin had created Dark Ages Spawn out of whole cloth, Judge Crabb notes that the character could have been anything else — “an idealistic recruit of Simon Bolivar in the 19th century, a companion of Odysseus on his voyages” — pointing out the two characters “differ slightly in their backgrounds, but these are elements of their characters that make them individually copyrightable, not ones that prevent Dark Ages (McFarlane) Spawn from being found derivative.” Finally, she even uses Spawn continuity to seal the case:

In fact, the basic concept of the Spawn series raises questions about the individuality of Dark Ages (McFarlane) Spawn. In Spawn No. 9, plaintiff conceived of a new direction in the story line, introducing a courtly Hellspawn of the middle ages, the twelfth century, to be exact, who stopped to help a damsel in distress and who spoke “medieval.” According to the rules of the Spawn universe, only one Hellspawn could be on Earth at the same time and the Al Simmons Hellspawn was already around.


McFarlane must turn over information on money earned by the contested character must be turned in by September 1.

Gaiman has some commentary on his blog:

I wish I took some kind of joy in this, but I don’t.

At this point all I hope is that Todd can do an accounting for all the comics I wrote for which he paid no royalties, and the rest of it; and that he’ll settle up and I will make some comics charities very happy; that his comics company will finally come out of bankruptcy; and that I can forget this forever.

Comments

  1. There may be a ripple effect from this. I think McFarlane may owe royalties to ALL of the creators that worked on Spawn during this period.

  2. That depends on the specific deals made at the time–Gaiman originally traded his copyrights for the Miracleman copyrights McFarlane had bought earlier, but McFarlane never delivered and then turned out not to own those rights.

    That Gaiman deserves royalties on Medieval Spawn and Angela was already decided in a previous lawsuit. This suit was only to determine if these other characters are based on Gaiman’s (co-)creations and as such would also fall under the previous ruling.

  3. Of course, the Pavolvian response dictates that we all begin to salivate at this point. The resolution of any Gaiman/McFarlane legal matter inspires hope, however slim, for the reprinting and conclusion of Miracleman. Marvel’s gosh-wow Marvelman reprints are fun, but pale in comparison.
    Still, happy for Neil that justice is done. Again.

  4. I think the Miracleman/Marvelman stuff is completely divorced from the Medieval Spawn/Angela stuff, and has been for over a decade. They were briefly linked because it seemed for a while that

    a) McFarlane’s purchase of Eclipse’s assets in a bankruptcy court gave him some share of the rights to Miracleman, and

    b) There seemed to be interest from McFarlane in trading those rights to Gaiman for Gaiman’s interest in any Spawn-related characters.

    That trade was never completed, and it seems more likely now that McFarlane never had anything to trade, both because of the details of the Eclipse contracts with Dez Skinn and the non-existence of any paperwork giving Skinn the rights to Marvelman in the first place.

  5. Oh, agreed, Bob. Not the same matter at all, just the same players. All I’m saying is that hope springs eternal.

  6. I love the judge’s description of the characters!

  7. I love how this ruling came out right when Neil and most people on the net found out Todd reprinted issue #9 in two recent Spawn collections without giving credit to Neil in the books, and neither informed Neil he was actually reprinting them again or gave him any copies of the books as per his contract.

    More fines a coming Todd and Image. You never learn.

  8. I just saw this on Spawn.com:

    “Spawn to go in an exciting new direction as 19th century Latin America Spawn teams up with Ancient Greece Spawn to take down that pain in the ass: Neilbolgiamen!”

  9. I think the only Miracleman card McFarlane has to play is ownership of the film negatives. Perhaps another set exists in the UK.

    Isn’t Medieval Spawn and Angela co-owned? Would McFarlane only need to give a proper accounting (as dictated in this ruling) and share of the sales to make it proper? Of course, if this is the case, then Gaiman can also produce derivative works with these characters.

    What if everyone but McFarlane was on board to allow reprints of Miracleman? Moore, Buckingham, Gaiman, Davis, Veitch, Totleben… Would McFarlane have a reasonable legal argument to challenge this? (Has anyone challenged Anglo’s ownership of Marvelman?)

  10. This recycled CRAP is nothing new, and only a better filled-out version of an 11 year old’s fantasy characters at best. Every idea is a rehash, but when they come too close and somebody can point to similarities, the trouble begins. But all of comics is/are recycled formulas.

    In the end, it is a closed circle of a few people fighting over a meal at their own table; an insulated community of thieving relatives lost in an incestuous, pandering industry. Neil is a breakout creator who is finally getting paid properly; for his years in the trenches, he deserves getting every penny owed… or stolen.

  11. Neil Gaiman is underwriting Scientology. The Scientologists list Neil Gaiman in the Cornerstone Newsletter along with Mary Gaiman, as contributing $35,000.00 in 2009. Being listed in the Cornerstone Newsletter means you are in good-standing with the cult.

    In 2010, Mary Gaiman was awarded the “Gold Humanitarian Award” for her contribution of $500,000.00 to Scientology. This is significant because Mary Gaiman continues to be Neil Gaiman’s business partner in The Blank Corporation, which is now Neil Gaiman’s Scientology front and how he pays the cult.

    Gaiman is also the “Vitamin Heir” of Scientology. The Gaiman family owns G&G Vitamins which reaps 6 million a year from selling The Purification Rundown Vitamins.

    Gaiman’s two sisters, Claire Edwards and Lizzie Calciole are not just high-ranking Scientologists, they are the head of RECRUITING and the head of Wealden House, the Scientology stronghold in East Grinstead. These two cannot associate with Neil unless he is in good standing.

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