So, I don’t know if you heard…but that’s ludicrous. Of course you’ve heard. Unless you actively avoid everything on the internet that has to do with Sonic the Hedgehog you’ve heard about the impending legal showdown between ex-Sonic scribe Ken Penders and Archie. Or Sega. Or Archie and Sega.
On Ken Penders’ blog just yesterday, he posted the following:
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, really Ken, all you did was submit a claim. And you can expect those claims to be swiftly challenged.
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.
And here’s the problem. Ken is only half-right when he says Archie may not use his materials without permission. Copyright law in the US is quite explicit on was is and is not covered by copyright. He is well within his rights to bar Archie from reprinting his old stories without his permission, but he erroneously believes those rights extend to complete control over the use of the characters and concepts within those stories. In other words, he thinks he has exclusive rights to his ideas, when copyright law doesn’t truly extend beyond the specific expressions of those ideas.
The difference between ideas and expressions is what keeps Sega from breaking down your doors whenever you produce art or fiction based on the Sonic the Hedgehog universe. As long as you’re not repeating game or comic scripts verbatim, or copying box art or screenshots, your works can be, like Ken’s, protected.
So don’t take today’s comic too seriously. I’m not going to stop using Scourge, Lara-Su, and Julie-Su just because Ken thinks I need to ask his permission and neither is Archie.
(Now if Archie does want to be amicable, they could throw a few royalties Ken’s way, just because it’s a decent thing to do given all the man has contributed throughout the years. But since Ken has decided to lawyer up instead of discussing it rationally, I’m not going to hold my breath.)