Earlier today, we brought you an exclusive preview of “Fame: Lady Gaga 2,” the sequel to Bluewater Comics’ recent, unauthorized biography of the popular musician. Just a few hours later, BleedingCool.com reported that the publisher was sent cease-and-desist orders from licensing attorney Kenneth Feinswog on behalf of his clients, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber (the subject of another bio-comic hitting shelves in October).
In light of the report, MTV News reached out to Bluewater publisher Darren G. Davis, who confirmed receipt of the cease-and-desist orders and offered his official response to the report and paperwork.
“We are 100% within our First Amendment rights,” Davis told MTV News. “We knew our rights on this before we jumped into the biography world. These are 100% biographies on their lives.”
For those who haven’t been following along at home, Bluewater has made a name for itself publishing both original comic book series (often involving celebrity creators or licensed properties) as well as unauthorized biographies of pop culture celebrities and other public figures. Previous subjects have included “Twilight” actors Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, musician Taylor Swift, and “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.
Last year, Bluewater purchased the right to reprint “Rock ’N’ Roll Comics,” a line of unauthorized biography comics published by Revolutionary Comics in the 1990s. The series was similarly targeted with a trademark infringement lawsuit when it published comics offering unauthorized biographies of New Kids On The Block and Motley Crue. Feinswog represented Motley Crue’s licensing and merchandising interests in the latter case as well.
The judge in those cases eventually ruled in favor of the publisher, stating that “the First Amendment may trump any claim that the plaintiffs have for trademark infringement.” However, the comic publisher was forbidden from using the logos or trademarked symbols of the bands, forcing the issues to be reprinted sans infringing elements.
According to Davis, Bluewater’s current line of biography comics are similarly protected.
“We reach out to all the celebrities and some choose to work with us and some do not,” he told MTV News. “If they do choose to work with us, we donate ads and money to a nonprofit of their choice. We offered the same deal to Bieber’s people.”
“These are not-poster books and as it was explained to the licensing lawyer, Kenneth Feinswog, it tells the story of [Bieber’s] life in 22 pages,” he continued. “We offered to send him a copy of the book before it went to print. We have been offered deals with poster books, sticker books and we had to turn them down because we know we do not have the rights to that. But doing an unauthorized biography we are in full within our rights.”
As for why he feels the company is being targeted, Davis has his own ideas about why unauthorized biography comics have returned to the legal spotlight.
“It feels like they are doing this because our comic book got the same amount of press as their book, ’Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever,'” said Davis. “Both are being released the same month, as well as four other Bieber books. We chose [to publish a book about] Justin Bieber because of how he is changing the music industry. This was a kid that posted his songs on YouTube to share with his family and became a superstar from that. This is a great story to inspire kids.”
Davis went on to name off a long list of other unauthorized biographies of the pop star already or soon-to-be published, claiming the Bluewater comic “is no different from these books.”
In the initial report regarding the legal scuffle, it’s indicated that the attorney for Bieber and Lady Gaga “likens Bluewater’s comics to be more akin to a bootleg album or poster, and thus they’re actionable on trademark and intellectual property and likeness rights.” The report claims that Feinswog plans to base his case on recent court rulings such as “Johnny and Edgar Winter VS DC Comics/Jonah Hex, and the Todd McFarlane/Spawn/Tony Twist lawsuit.”
In a statement to MTV News, “Rock ’N’ Roll Comics’ co-creator Jay Sanford offered up his own take on how these prior court rulings related to both the prior Revolutionary Comics case and the current allegations against Bluewater.
“The other case Feinswog’s letter refers to is when Johnny and Edgar Winter tried to sue DC over two albino ’Jonah Hex’ characters who looked like them and had similar names,” said Sanford. “Feinswog tries to say that DC only dodged damages by virtue of the character being substantially changed from the real-life Winter Bros.”
“The other thing to note is [Feinswog’s] citation of Doe v. TVI Cablevision,” he continued. “This is the famous ’Todd McFarlane vs. Tony Twist’ case, wherein a bad guy character in ’Spawn’ has a name and likeness similar to a famous hockey player. In the comic, he’s a very bad guy — so the lawsuit was about defamation, not bio rights. The comic made it look like McFarlane — a big hockey fan — was saying this famous hockey player was like some kind of mob thug.”
As for the next step, Davis said he’s confident in Bluewater’s right to produce the unauthorized biography comics.
“Our lawyer is in contact with Mr. Feinswog,” he said.
[UPDATE: Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Universal Music Group merchandising company Bravado told MTV News, “Bravado is committed to protecting the rights of its clients, and in this case it’s Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.”]
Keep it locked to Splash Page for more news as it develops.