The five most intriguing copyright cases concludes with the final three, and begins where we started –the entertainment industry.
In the longest comic book legal battle to date, DC Comics sued Fawcett Publications for infringing upon their Superman character with Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, better known as Shazam!
But the Shazam! comic book character is actually owned by DC Comics, now doing business as National Comics Publications and a subsidiary of Time Warner. DC had sent a “cease and desist” letter to Fawcett back in 1941 when it filed the lawsuit which claimed Fawcett’s Captain Marvel was a “rip-off” of DC’s Superman.
According to Wikipedia, the legal battle continued in both district and appeals courts until 1953, at which time Fawcett decided to settle with DC/National having previously won but minor victories in the contentious battle. However, the company later rebounded through a series of acquisitions, including the trademark for Captain Marvel under “Marvel Comics” in 1967.
But they have also licensed the Marvel Family of characters to National, who began featuring Captain Marvel as being succeeded by the newly created Shazam! –an amalgamation of Captain Marvel and his alter-ego, Billy Batson.
The two titans of the industry continue to duke it out in court on occasion, the filings of which undoubtedly stir much excitement by way of monetary gains for the law firms representing them.
At #4, software entertainment companies prove game titles are just as protectable as any other work when Electronic Arts (EA) sues Zynga for infringing upon its Sims City franchise.
According to EA, Zynga copied its game “Sims Social” with their social game title “The Ville,” released in June of 2011, a full 2 months before Sims Social was released.
Among copyright infringement, EA is also alleging corporate theft, insisting certain former employees and game developers now working at Zynga stole protected story/game concepts from them.
The Facebook social game developer decided to strike back, and has filed an interesting counterclaim against EA. In it, they allege that EA had directly demanded that Zynga force all former EA employees back to the company.
In Zynga’s view, this type of request is a violation of anti-Trust Laws. Zynga further states that EA executives attempted to work out a “no hire” agreement with them, wherein the companies would promise not to hire each other’s developers. Strong statements indeed, but it will be up to a judge to determine whether hiring collisions qualify under antitrust.
No list of infamous copyright cases would be complete without paying homage to the music industry, the notion of “sampling,” and the artist called Vanilla Ice.
Ice Ice Baby makes the cut at #5 for what many have called the most embarrassing copyright infringement case ever. The self-proclaimed “white rapper” used the melodic riffs from a 1981 release by rock legends Queen and David Bowie, who collaborated for the first time ever to make the song Under Pressure.
The 1990 Vanilla Ice single reached number one on Billboard and music charts worldwide. In a fatefully ironic twist, Vanilla Ice “thanked” everyone from MC Hammer and Public Enemy to Sir Mix-A-Lot on the single's liner as his “inspiration” for the song.
Unfortunately, he failed to thank, or even mention Queen, who promptly sued the artist for copyright infringement in the appropriation of their original melody.
Perhaps even more unfortunate is the lyric “check out the hook while my DJ revolves it…” which Vanilla raps in prelude to the sampled (read: stolen) melody in Ice Ice Baby.
The case settled out-of-court for an undisclosed sum. Queen re-released Under Pressure in 1992.