Archie has published the Sonic The Hedgehog comic book series for decades (I have the initial mini and the first few issues before I lost interest). It has some interesting points. Jim Valentino did a bit for the series for free because his kids loved the comic so much. Mark Millar's first published work was in a Sonic comic (I'm guessing it isn't quite the same as his work on Nemesis). There is a subset of the furry community that has developed a reeeeeeeally unhealthy fixation on the characters. Remember how I said there are some pretty humorless Legion fans out there? These are worse. Between the hentai doujinshi or doing recolors and claiming they are original characters to...let's just say, thank Elvis I'm no longer a Sonic fan.
Ken Penders was a longtime writer for the Sonic comic. Penders has started a legal fight with Archie over his work on the Sonic comic, specifically his characters. According to the ghost of Steve Gerber, Archie says his popular characters, like Julie-Su, Geoffrey St. John, Hershey, Rob O’ the Hedge, Lien-Da and the Dark Legion (are they recolors? Joke joke joke....), were works for hire. Penders says his creations actually weren't covered by the work for hire contract, he only gave Archie publishing rights for the initial run (meaning new compensation for reprints, trades, and digital), and not only does he own the characters, and not only did he not give permission for his characters to appear in anything other than the books he wrote (which puts the Dark Legion miniseries Archie is readying and the next Sonic game, which incorporates some of his characters, in the trick bag), he's saying he can launch a comic at another company with those characters.
Penders laid it out in an open letter to fans:
As of April 21, 2010, the U.S. Copyright Office finally began certifying my copyright claims (which I initially filed beginning back in January 2009) on every single story I ever wrote, penciled or both for Archie Comics. As a result, I am now officially recognized by the U.S. Government as the owner of every single SONIC and KNUCKLES story I ever created (well, almost every one right now, but it will be “all” shortly, as soon as the Copyright Office finishes with the last few claims. But I digress…).
What does this mean?
That means anyone seeking to use my characters, concepts and stories that were published in the pages of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, various SONIC 48-page specials, various issues of SONIC SUPER SPECIALS, the PRINCESS SALLY mini-series, the SONIC’S FRIENDLY NEMESIS KNUCKLES mini-series, KNUCKLES THE DARK LEGION and the KNUCKLES THE ECHIDNA series, must first contact me for permission and to make arrangements for the use of this material.
For example, if someone were to display a panel or page from a story I wrote and illustrated on their website, or planned to make a poster from a cover I drew, they must contact me for permission first before doing so. They will be asked to place the proper copyright notice – for example, “© 2010 by Ken Penders” – alongside the graphic image.
As for how it affects the SONIC THE HEDGEHOG titles published by Archie Comics, while it does not prevent them from publishing the SONIC series, they are not allowed to use any of my characters, concepts or stories without further discussion with my representatives. For now, they cannot reprint any of my stories in any media whatsoever, nor can they use any of my characters. Julie-Su, Geoffrey St. John, Hershey, Rob O’ the Hedge, Lien-Da, the Dark Legion along with the rest of the characters and concepts I created – including the alternative universes and future timeline – cannot appear in the series.
Every story since issue #160 that features my characters and concepts is essentially unauthorized, as I did not grant Archie Comics the right to use my creations for their benefit without compensation to me.
I am currently at work creating a new story featuring my characters, the first of which is a tale of Lara-Su learning about her family, in particular the early days of her grandparents Locke and Lara-Le leading up to the time of the birth of their child. Whether or not this new story or others will feature SONIC and KNUCKLES is a decision only SEGA can make. However, there are plenty of stories to be told with the cast I already have created, and there is a sizable audience for those stories.
I initially took the action of reclaiming my work when I was contacted by many SONIC fans asking me if I had contributed in any way to the development of the video game SONIC CHRONICLES: THE DARK BROTHERHOOD. I was then startled to learn how many characters and concepts from the KNUCKLES series I created were adapted within the framework of the game’s storyline. It was clearly obvious why suddenly so many fans sat up and took notice.
While I initially contributed to the SONIC mythos within the pages of the various SONIC-related comic series, I did not sign any agreement allowing my work to be used in another media. During this time, I consulted with Michael Lovitz, an Intellectual Property attorney based in Beverly Hills, who advised me of my rights and how to proceed to protect those rights.
At this time, anyone distributing and selling copies of SONIC ARCHIVES Nos. 3 through 13, SONIC SELECT Nos. 1 and 2, as well as any of the latest issues of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG and SONIC UNIVERSE that feature my characters in any way, shape or form will be asked to cease and desist or else risk facing the consequences. This includes any version of said material, which also includes my original works, which sees release in any format beyond the original published comic books, including but not limited to digital downloads. (Yes, the iTunes and iPhones stores distributing my stories are currently infringing my copyrights, and are in the process of being made aware of this infringement.)
TL;DR -- Archie wasn't paying attention, and I'm taking advantage of a loophole.
This will have to be sorted out by the courts. Copyright doesn't exactly mean what people think it does. People think it assigns ownership. That is technically true, but only because of how it works out. It establishes for the purposes of court proceedings that you had control of this creation on this time and this date. That is used to establish who owns the work. That is the only thing copyright covers. If actual ownership is in dispute, the Copyright Office has nothing to do with it, the courts sort it out.
What exactly happens is anyone's guess. To see how this might work, the actual contracts that were signed would have to be seen, and Archie isn't revealing those, whether because they feel it's none of our business or they don't want to give anyone else any ideas, who can say.
But I'm very curious what is going to happen. I'll be saving a seat in the Gallery for Steve Gerber.