Holy copyright infringement lawsuit, Batman!

DC comics sues Bradenton man over figurines sale

jholmes@bradenton.comJuly 16, 2009 

BRADENTON — Looks like Batman, our caped crusader, will have a day in Tampa’s federal court.

Bradenton resident John Stacks, 49, is being sued by superhero giant DC Comics for up to $7.5 million for selling what it says are unauthorized resin kit figurines resembling its Batman characters. But Stacks said his figures portray the “actors” from the 1960s “Batman” TV series, who happened to be dressed as characters from the show that made them famous — Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler and five others. Stacks even has a disclaimer at the bottom of his Web site, www.johnnysresin.com, stating so.

The Web site has since been shut down because of the lawsuit. On it, the figures sold for $50 to $150.

Stacks said he hasn’t broken the law. He has contracts from the actors and their families on using their likenesses. Some have even sold his figurines at comic book shows they have attended, he said.

The avid Batman fan never thought he’d be hit with a federal lawsuit.

“This was not a profit thing,” Stacks said about his product. “This was a hobby that I enjoy. ... It’s not that I’m making a fortune. I’m making nothing. It’s ridiculous.”

Stacks said DC Comics has repeatedly contacted him about the figurines since he started selling them nearly a decade ago. The New York-based company is suing Stacks for copyright and trademark infringement, false designation of origin and false description and unfair competition, according to the suit, filed Monday.

The company is being represented by Maitland-based law firm Michael W.O. Holihan, who, when contacted by the Herald on Wednesday, would not comment on the case.

In the lawsuit, DC Comics states its Batman franchise “has proven to be among the most successful licensing and merchandising ventures of all time, with gross retail sales of associated licensed merchandise exceeding $1 billion.” It also states that DC Comics “has been and still is the sole proprietor” that is authorized to enforce all copyright usage for its products.

Stacks said he’s only sold about 50 kits in 10 years — earning about $3,000, he said. He’s poured more money into the project than he’s made, paying up to $15,000 creating the models for the kits and securing rights from the actors.

“The actors have supported me the whole way,” the semi-retired contractor said.

Finding a lawyer to represent him may put a further dent in his wallet, he said.

Since the case was filed, Stacks said some of the actors have distanced themselves from him.

He said they receive a 10 percent royalty for each figurine he sells of them.

His kits come as a do-it-yourself paint project, but many people who have ordered them ask for them already painted. He paints each one himself.

Stacks said he has not been served with papers. He learned of the lawsuit Tuesday when a reporter contacted him about it. A clerk at the Tampa division of the U.S. District Court/Middle District of Florida said a summons was issued Tuesday. There has been no response filed.

In the lawsuit, DC Comics asks that Stacks cease making and selling the figures, turn over his remaining inventory and pay three times the profits he’s made or, if the plaintiff sees fit, pay other damages. If found guilty, Stacks could be charged up to $1 million for each product type.

That comes to nearly $8 million, Stacks said. Money he does not have.

“I’m worth $70,” he said.

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