[This is part of my running report on the 2010 hearing on the Neil Gaiman v. Todd McFarlane case. To see coverage from the beginning, click here. For additional historical perspective, check out The Comics Chronicles' look back on Spawn #9 and the sales impact the "guest-author" issues had on the series.]
The decision came in Case #02-CV-48-BBC, Neil Gaiman, Marvels & Miracles LLC vs. Todd McFarlane, Todd McFarlane Productions, TMP International and Image Comics. It had been determined that Neil Gaiman had been co-creator with Todd McFarlane of Spawn #9 and, with that issue, the characters of Count Cogliostro, Medieval Spawn, and warrior angel Angela. The current suit involved the ownership of characters that had appeared over the years in McFarlane's "Spawn" titles, specifically "Dark Ages Spawn" and warrior angels "Tiffany" and "Domina."
In her opinion, Crabb wrote, "The parties agree that they are co-owners of Angela and Medieval Spawn. Defendants do not contest plaintiff's right to an accounting and division of profits for the posters, trading cards, clothing, statuettes, animated series on HBO, video games, etc. that feature those characters. The dispute is limited to information about the profits earned from Dark Ages Spawn, Tiffany and Domina, which defendant has refused to provide to plaintiff. Defendants contend that these characters are not subject to plaintiff's copyright because they were based solely on plaintiff's ideas and not on any physical expression of those ideas. I conclude that the newer characters are derivative and that plaintiff is entitled to his share of the profits realized by these characters and to the immediate production of all documents and other information material to the calculation of the profits."
Her opinion noted some of the details of the storylines. For example, "The Dark Ages (McFarlane) Spawn is [like Medieval (Gaiman) Spawn] a twelfth century knight, referred to as The Black Knight, killed in a holy crusade far from his homeland and returned to Earth as Hellspawn. (In the first issue in which he is introduced, he is described as having been born in 901, tr. exh. 26, inside front cover; in future issues and in advertising for the comics and his action figure, he is described as having been born in the twelfth century.)"
Spawn: The Dark Ages, to the effect that defendant was rescinding their previous agreements and retaining all rights to Medieval (Gaiman) Spawn.)"
She then elaborated with concepts of her own, not expressed during the June 14 testimony: "If defendant really wanted to differentiate the new Hellspawn, why not make him a Portugese explorer in the 16th century; an officer of the royal Navy in the 18th century, an idealistic recruit of Simon Bolivar in the 19th century, a companion of Odysseus on his voyages, a Roman gladiator, a younger brother of Emperor Nakamikado in the early 18th century, a Spanish conquistador, an aristocrat in the Qing dynasty, an American Indian warrior or a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I? It seems far more than coincidence that Dark Ages (McFarlane) Spawn is a knight from the same century as Medieval (Gaiman) Spawn."
She wrote that it was irrelevant whether Spawn: The Dark Ages writer Brian Holguin had tried to base his Dark Ages (McFarlane) Spawn on Medieval (Gaiman) Spawn. "... what is relevant is that he had access to Medieval (Gaiman) Spawn before he created his version of the middle ages knight." She cited earlier court decisions including the 1977 case decision "holding that George Harrison had access to tune he used for 'He's So Fine'; therefore, even if copying was subconscious, it amounted to infringement." "The small differences in the two knights do not undermine a finding of derivation ... It is not, as defendent claims, a simple borrowing of an idea but a borrowing of the expression of ideas of the copyright owners. It would be considered infringing if it had been developed by anyone not working for defendent." She said the same applied to the other angels. "Certainly they are similar enough to be infringing if they had been produced and sold by someone other than the copyright owners. The totality of their attributes and traits, that is, their visual appearance, their costumes, their manner of speaking, their activities and their common origin (Heaven's angelic phalanx), mark them as derivative of Angela."