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MAR
3
3 YEARS

Reading Room: A History of Comic Book Lawsuits, More

Some reading material for entertainment law junkies

We have a couple of recommendations for THR, Esq entertainment law geeks.

Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey at Evil Twin Comics have just released a pretty awesome comic book that details the "incredible, insane true story of the American comic book industry," told, of course, in comic book form, and going into such disputes as whether the Captain Marvel character was an infringement on the Superman character, the legendary legal battle over the control of Howard the Duck, the legal mystery surrounding the creation of Josie and the Pussycats, and Jack Kirby's battles with Marvel over stolen artwork.

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This is a topic we've been covering regularly on this blog these past few years. Namely, how the estates of such legendary comic book creators like Jerry Siegel, Joe Schuster, and Jack Kirby have been attempting to use termination provisions of the U.S. Copyright Act to wrestle back control over characters including Superman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, and others. Here's a funny panel on the ongoing Siegel case.

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And while we're on the subject of termination rights, we also recommend a column by Stefanie Lipson at Greenberg Glusker, first published in The Recorder.

Lipson makes the great, intriguing point that since "termination interests" by authors are unwaivable and non-assignable, this means that when an author dies, the estate must account to the IRS the value of such rights. Meaning that even if the estate has no intention of ever exercising its right to terminate a copyright grant, the estate must still pay the proper estate taxes -- or as the Tea Party might call it, the death tax.

Lipson uses Francis Ford Coppola as an example, concluding that his estate will have to pay taxes on copyrights transferred to Hollywood studios. Most authors don't like "work-for-hire" exceptions to the Copyright Act's statutory termination provisions, LIpson sees it as a potential escape. What should Coppola do if he wanted to write a new sequel to The Godfather? Lipson writes:

So, if he wants to make his daughter Sofia the recipient of the proceeds from his next hit screenplay with minimal tax consequences, he can give her a smallish, non-taxable gift (up to $13,000 in 2011) to set up a new company, and have that company hire him to write The Godfather IV: Let’s Just Pretend Godfather III Never Happened, Okay? (subject, presumably, to certain WGA obligations, etc.). Sofia, Inc. can then flip the script to a studio buyer, and all of the income derived from the screenplay will belong, from inception, to Coppola’s daughter's company, without transfer tax implications.

Sounds like an offer from Francis that Sofia can’t refuse.

We should offer the disclaimer that we haven't actually heard any recent rumors about a new Godfather movie.