Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate Sues Dynamite Over Trademarks, ‘Pornographic’ Covers
If you thought you could make it out of this week without a new comic book rights lawsuit, you were wrong.
ERB, Inc., the family company that administers the various intellectual properties owned or associated with the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, is suing Dynamite Entertainment for trademark infringement with respect to the publisher’s line of comics based on Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars and Tarzan material, seeking a surrender of profits as well as a recall of products sold specifically in the United Kingdom. Amusingly, the suit also specifically objects to Dynamite’s famously plentiful and bawdy variant covers, described by ERB as “bordering on (and in some cases are) pornographic.”The crux of the complaint can be found in this passage:
The use by [Dynamite] of marks confusingly similar to ERB’s John Carter Marks unfairly and unlawfully wrests from ERB control over its trademarks and reputation. ERB Has no control over the quality of Defendants’ comic book series, including the nude and pornographic covers that feature the Warlord of Mars mark. As a result, ERB’s extremely valuable reputation may be permanently damaged.
Dynamite publishes a wide variety of licensed comic book titles, such as the recently announced The Shadow, and added to it recently with a prodigious line of titles based on the Burroughs canon. Such titles include Warlord of Mars, Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris, Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom, and the forthcoming Dejah Thoris and the White Apes of Mars. There’s also Lord of the Jungle, starring Tarzan.
The lawsuit, which is embedded in full below, alleges that Dynamite owner Nick Barrucci actually approached ERB about securing the rights to the Burroughs trademarks back in 2007, but was denied on account of in-progress deals with Dark Horse for officially licensed Tarzan comics and Marvel for its line of John Carter comics.
While the contents and characters of the Burroughs’ earliest works are now in the public domain in the United States, the trademarks — names and titles like “John Carter: Warlord of Mars” and “John Carter” and “Barsoom” and “Dejah Thorris” — remain in ERB’s control. Under United Kingdom law, these early works actually remain copyrighted to ERB. The suit alleges that Barrucci is circumventing trademark law by removing the offending words from the titles of his products and marketing materials and violating UK copyright law flat out. Consequently, the suit claims, Dynamite is likely to “deceive, mislead and confuse the public” about the legitimacy of the work insofar as ERB’s approval.
With respect to the “pornographic” covers, it should be pointed out that a great deal of fantasy art employs the kind of titillation seen on the Joe Jusko cover above, and indeed ERB has approved of famous Frank Frazetta pieces which depict Dejah Thoris and John Carter in hardly any clothes at all.
However, some illustration aficionados could possibly argue that some of Dynamite’s Warlord of Mars covers — some of which are marketed as “Risque Nude” exclusives, where the Martian pasties are not present — are of a different stripe:
The complaint is uncommonly comprehensible and actually quite interesting (as far as comic book and intellectual property litigation goes), and we encourage you to read the full text below: