Mattel Fights 'He-Man' Comic Book Author Over Franchise Rights

By the power of Greyskull, not to mention the statute of limitations, Mattel is looking to keep He-Man and the Masters of the Universe franchise away from the grips of writer Donald Glut.

The toy-maker has filed a lawsuit in California federal court that seeks a declaration of its rights. According to the complaint, Glut has recently come forward to assert that he created the characters and is entitled to copyright ownership. Mattel says that it is too late, that for more than three decades it's been acknowledged that Glut's contributions fell under the work-for-hire doctrine.

Read the lawsuit here.

If Mattel is correct that this was a work-for-hire, under copyright law, that would mean that the company is deemed to be the author. The other possibility is Glut's reported theory of ownership that he has "licensed" his work to Mattel, which would mean that it's subject to termination in 2016.

Over the years, there's been some dispute over who deserves attribution for the characters on the fictional planet of Eternia.  Roger Sweet, one of Mattel's lead toy designers, has taken some credit. The lawsuit states that Mattel, around 1980, tasked its design department with creating a new boys property and settled on a concept of a muscle-bound hero who has the power to travel through various time periods. Glut is acknowledged as having created the backstory for He-Man and other characters. Mattel says Glut did so as "one of the independent contractors" with instruction by the company on "certain key elements."

Glut has long worked as a writer in television and comic books. He wrote a novelization of The Empire Strikes Back and his IMDb profile lists credits on '80s children's shows like Transformers and Spider-Man.  In 1981, Glut wrote four mini-comics, "He-Man and the Power Sword," "The Vengeance of Skeletor," "Battle in the Clouds," and "King of Castle Grayskull."

The Masters of the Universe animated television show that followed was one of the most successful that decade, although a 1987 film version starring Dolph Lundgren did the franchise no favors. In 2002, a reboot was started on The Cartoon Network. Recently, G.I. Joe director Jon Chu has discussed making a non-campy version for Sony Pictures.

But Mattel now says in its lawsuit that Glut claims that his work on Masters of the Universe was not done as a work-for-hire, and that he owns an interest in the copyrights to his works. Glut is reported to have filed a copyright registration on a treatment featuring the He-Man characters and is threatening to sue.

"Glut's claim is both baseless and stale," says Mattel in the lawsuit

The plaintiff points to interviews that Glut has given over the years that allegedly show how he has bided his time before asserting ownership theories.

For example, one interview from 2001 has the writer saying that he was only paid "flat-rate work-for-hire fees."

The interview with Glut continues, "My work on 'Masters of the Universe' taught me one basic lesson: Don't create anything original, especially concepts that someone else will make millions of dollars from, unless you have a percentage of the profits or part ownership. It's a lesson I've managed to stick to since my days with He-Man and the gang."

Mattel is represented by Lawrence Iser with Kinsella Weitzman.


Rob Rader, one of Glut’s attorneys, gave us this statement:

“Masters of the Universe is only one of the many properties that Donald Glut has contributed to over the course of his career – which has included work on the Spider Man and Star Wars franchises – and it is only fair that he receive compensation for his contributions. Mattel’s claims are simply not supported by a written work for hire agreement.  If such an agreement existed, Mattel would have certainly attached it to its complaint. We appreciate Mattel’s crediting Donald Glut with expertise in understanding the nuances of copyright law, but that seems like an issue best left for determination by a court. Dinosaurs, Donald knows; work for hire law, not so much.”

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