Monday, September 25, 2023
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‘Barney Google & Snuffy Smith’ in Court

SAN DIEGO (CN) - A company hired to archive a collection of original "Barney Google and Snuffy Smith" comics for a museum "ransacked" the works, "stealing an extensive collection," the Lasswell Foundation claims in court.

The Lasswell Foundation for Learning and Laughter and Fred Lasswell Inc. sued Florida resident Timothy Schwartz and his Illinois-based company Design Tank, on Feb. 25 in Federal Court.

Lasswell says Schwartz was supposed to archive the original artwork for the Ohio State University Comic Art Museum, which is not a party to the complaint.

Lasswell was best known for his work on "Barney Google and Snuffy Smith," which was created by cartoonist Billy DeBeck.

Originally titled "Take Barney Google, F'rinstance," the strip first appeared in the sports section of the Chicago Herald and Examiner in 1919. It followed the adventures of Barney, a short, dapper man who wore gloves, a bow tie and a top hat and constantly chewed on a cigar. Snuffy Smith, Barney's hillbilly cousin from Mississippi, was introduced in 1934.

Lasswell was 17 when DeBeck hired him as an assistant on the strip. After DeBeck died in 1942, Lasswell took over the comic and eventually phased out Barney Google to focus on Snuffy Smith and several of Lasswell's own characters.

He won several awards, including the National Cartoonists Society Humor Comic Strip Award in 1963 and the Society's Elzie Segar Award in 1984 and 1994. Lasswell died in March 2001 at 84.

Several years ago, the Ohio State University Comic Art Museum approached the Lasswell Foundation to acquire thousands of Lasswell's comic books, drawings and original artwork for its collection. The plaintiffs' affiliate company, Goldbook Publishing, agreed to compile the artwork for the university, according to the complaint.

Goldbook is not a party to the lawsuit.

Since the work needed to be scanned and organized in electronic form in Florida, where the artwork was, Goldbook hired Schwartz, who "falsely represented to Goldbook Publishing that he and Design Tank had the experience, education, and technical and organizational skills necessary to prepare the archive for acquisition," according to the complaint.

As webmaster for the plaintiffs' digital archives, Schwartz had "unfettered access" to its information, a privilege he "severely abused," the complaint states.

Lasswell claims Schwartz and Design Tank "utterly failed to scan and inventory the archive as they promised. Instead, defendants ransacked the Lasswell office and the Lasswell home, stealing an extensive collection of original artwork and documents in both physical and digital media. Schwartz also began squatting in the Lasswell home, going so far as to list the address on his driver's license and vehicle registration."

Lasswell claims Schwartz also set up iTunes and YouTube accounts to "divert consumers from the legitimate website belonging to plaintiffs" and "embezzled revenue generated by plaintiffs' website."

Goldbook fired Schwartz in 2014 and demanded that he leave the Lasswell home, return the purloined comics, artwork, business records and computer equipment, but he refused, "instead attempting to further extort plaintiffs by demanding additional compensation and by threatening to make false accusations to government authorities about plaintiffs' tax obligations," according to the complaint.

It continues: "In the end, defendants' actions were nothing more than an attempt to take control of plaintiffs' and their affiliates' brand image and goodwill, extort concessions from a failed business relationship, and exact misguided revenge. Defendants' actions have crippled plaintiffs' ability to run their business and indefinitely delayed the transfer of the Lasswell archive to the university."

Schwartz could not be contacted for comment.

The plaintiffs seek an injunction, disgorgement, return of stolen property, $2 million per infringement and $100,000 per domain name, and treble, exemplary and punitive damages for 10 causes of action, including trademark infringement, copyright infringement, cybersquatting, unfair competition, conversion, fraud, and breach of contract.

They are represented by Andrew Skale with Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo of San Diego, who declined comment.

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