(CN) – The 82-year-old father of G.I. Joe has served notice to Hasbro that his assignment of rights will expire on Feb. 29, 2020, at which time or his heirs will reclaim all interests in the $100 million toys.
Stanley A. Weston sued Hasbro on Tuesday in Los Angeles Federal Court. He is represented by renowned entertainment attorney Bert Fields, who at 86 goes back even further than his latest client.
Weston claims that in 1963 he invented the idea of selling “male action figures” with movable parts, “wearing and carrying miniaturized versions of the uniforms, insignias, emblems and equipment of each of the different branches of the United States armed forces.”
He took his idea to Hasbro – so long ago it was still called Hassenfield Bros. – and showed his “outfitted action figures” to the company’s vice president for research and development, Donald Levine, who told him, accurately: “You’re going to make a ton of money from this.”
Toy soldiers already existed, of course. Weston’s genius, he explained to Levine, was that “just as razor manufacturers made their money from the sale of blades, once a buyer owned one of his Outfitted Action Figures, the continued sale of different uniforms, insignias, emblems and equipment, such as those shown on Weston’s oaktag presentation, would provide a steady stream of revenue. Levine told Weston his concept was great and would be of significant interest to defendant,” according to the lawsuit.
Weston created his prototypes on oaktag – a type of poster board, but stronger.
“Levine told Weston that, if Weston approved what defendant made, he was sure defendant would want to buy the rights from Weston,” the complaint states.
So, Weston says, at his direction the toy company drew and then made up the action figures, one of which became G.I. Joe, and the uniforms, insignia and weapons they carried.
“Levine consistently referred to Weston as the creator and owner of the rights in the Outfitted Action Figures, which he said defendant wanted to buy,” the complaint states. “Neither Levine nor anyone else from defendant made any claim that defendant already owned any such rights or that all such rights were not owned by Weston or that Weston was not the creator and author of the Outfitted Action Figures, or that defendant could or would manufacture or market the Outfitted Action Figures without buying the rights from Weston.”
They signed a contract in February 1964. West says that’s so long ago that he no longer has the original contract, nor, he is informed and believes, does Hasbro. He believes he granted the company copyright for 50 years, including the right to make derivative works from it in that time.
He served Hasbro notice on Jan. 8 this year that all of its copyrights and copyright interests in “the Outfitted Action Figures, including the miniaturized uniforms, insignias, emblems and equipment worn and carried by such figures” would expire on Feb. 29, 2020.
He believes that the value of the copyright interests he seeks to recapture exceed $100 million. He also believes that there will be “an actual controversy” about this. Since he’s 82 years old, and may not be around when the rights expire in the statutory 5 years since he gave notice, he seeks declaratory judgment that the rights will revert to him or his heirs.
Original G.I. Joe dolls – excuse me, action figures – were selling for as much as $5,750 in 1995, according to a Chicago Tribune story of that year. In 2003, a 1963 prototype of G.I. Joe went for $200,000 on eBay, according to a collectors’ site.
The dolls were named after a 1945 movie, “The Story of G.I. Joe,” and originally came in four versions: infantryman, sailor, Marine and pilot. A black G.I. Joe appeared in 1965, then a Green Beret and – brace yourself – a nurse. As the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular, G.I. Joe was renamed an “adventurer” in 1969, rather than a soldier. He’s also appeared as an astronaut, a drug agent, a spy, a terrorist fighter, and so on – always with more special equipment to be bought.
He was briefly retired, from 1978 to 1982, but reappeared in larger versions: 3¾-inches in 1978 and a foot tall in 1991.
The original, most valuable G.I. Joes had 21 movable parts. The popularity of the dolls dwindled as Transformers and then video games invaded Earth, but the 2009 movie “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” grossed $150 million at the box office, and its 2013 sequel, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” grossed $123 million. There also have been comic books featuring the doughty fellow, and a G.I. Joe TV show ran for two years.
Courthouse News’s efforts to find the total sales of G.I. Joe over the years were unavailing. Perhaps it’s a state secret.
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