Coming hot on the heels of a Fox news anchor's $5 million lawsuit for allegedly naming a stuffed hamster after her, Hasbro was hit with another lawsuit last week, this time over its venerable G.I. Joe line.
Stanley A. Weston, age 82, claims that he is the original author of Hasbro's G.I. Joe action figures. Weston is asking a California federal court to terminate Hasbro's copyright interest in the toys and assign all rights to him.
You may be thinking...
Well, not necessarily. Without going too far down the rabbit hole, there is a somewhat obscure provision of copyright law that allows authors, under certain circumstances, to reclaim rights they traded away long ago. These are known as "reversion rights."
For example, in 2012 Victor Willis (better known as the Cop from the Village People) successfully recaptured the copyrights in songs that he assigned away some 35 years prior. When your legal victory includes the right to the perennial disco favorite "YMCA," that's no small potatoes in royalties. After his win, Willis stated, "I’m hoping that other artists will get a good lawyer and get back the works that a lot of us gave away when we were younger, before we knew what was going on.”
Is Stanley Weston like Willis, where he naively transferred away his valuable rights? Time and the evidence will tell. Reversion rights are basically the ticking time bomb of U.S. copyright law. So, it's quite apropos that this latest legal battle involves America's favorite bellicose little bro.
Mikhael Bortz is an intellectual property, media and business attorney based out of Chicago and Miami. Mikhael specializes her legal practice in worldwide intellectual property, fine art issues, licensing, merchandising, branded entertainment, technology, and social media.
G.I. Joe figurine image courtesy of flickr user Cerebral Pizza, licensed under CC BY 2.0