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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tarzan’s Family Aghast at Comic Books

MANHATTAN (CN) - The family of Edgar Rice Burroughs claims three comic-book publishers violate its copyrights and trademarks on "Tarzan" and "John Carter of Mars," sometimes in books with pornographic covers.

Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., a family-owned entity created by the author in 1923, sued Dynamic Forces Entertainment, Dynamite Entertainment and Savage Tales Entertainment, in Federal Court.

Burroughs Inc. claims the defendants violated its rights in a series of comic books "bearing identical and confusingly similar marks - namely, 'Lord of the Jungle,' 'Warlord of Mars,' 'Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris,' and 'Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom.'"

"Defendants' comic book series discussed herein are also indisputably and admittedly (and without plaintiff's authorization) based on and substantially copy original and protectable material elements from certain of Mr. Burroughs' original works of authorship, including 'Tarzan and the Apes' and 'A Princess of Mars,'" the complaint states.

"Because these literary works of Mr. Burroughs are still protected under copyright in certain foreign jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, any distribution by defendants of their comic book series in such jurisdictions without plaintiff's approval constitutes copyright infringement under the governing copyright laws of the United Kingdom and such other jurisdictions."

Since Burroughs' death in 1950, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., has been owned by his descendants, either directly or through family trusts. It's now primarily owned by the author's grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Over the years the enduring popularity of Tarzan has led to 23 sequel novels, according to the complaint.

Since the company's inception, the complaint states, it has been the family's "practice and policy to own or control all copyright and trademark rights relating to the many licensed original and derivative works based upon Mr. Burroughs' stories and characters, including the celebrated character Tarzan, as well as his science-fiction heroes, including John Carter of Mars. This control has emanated not only from ERB's copyright ownership of the original stories, but also from the exclusive trademark rights arising from ERB's long, continuous and exclusive use of Mr. Burroughs' famous characters, including their names and images, on or in connection with goods and services in interstate commerce."

The family says a representative of the defendants began speaking with Burrough's now-deceased grandson, Danton Burroughs, in July 2007 about a possible licensing agreement.

Despite being told that the works were already licensed to another company for a comic book series, this representative "kept pushing ERB to allow defendants to publish comic books series based on the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars series. ERB never agreed," the complaint states.

It continues: "Notwithstanding its knowledge that it did not have permission from ERB, in July 2010, defendant Dynamite Entertainment announced that it was creating a new comic book series 'based on' ERB's John Carter of Mars series."

If the copyright infringement was bad, the family says it was mortified by the treatment of the works.

"Some of the covers and comic panels inside defendants' 'Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris' series border on (and in some cases are) pornographic," the complaint states.

"In each issue, [the female character] Dejah Thoris appears with greatly exaggerated feminine features. ...

"On some covers - covers which defendants refer to as 'Risque Nude' exclusive covers - Dejah Thoris appears topless." (Parentheses in complaint.)

After releasing several sequels to the original run of these allegedly infringing comics, the defendants began a new series based on "Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle," the Burroughs say.

"Defendants infringing acts are likely to deceive, mislead and confuse the public concerning the source and sponsorship of these comic book series, leading consumers to mistakenly believe that defendants' 'Lord of the Jungle' comic book series, including all newly added material therein, comes from, or is otherwise sponsored by, affiliated with, or approved by ERB," the complaint states. "Such infringing activities have caused and will continue to cause irreparable injury to ERB unless permanently enjoined by this court."

Burroughs Inc. seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, recall and destruction of the offending materials, damages and treble damages, and wants ill ill-gotten gains turned over to Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.

The company is represented by Roger L. Zissu with Fross, Zelnick, Lehrman & Zissu.

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