He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was set to be the latest 1980's franchise to get a 21st century reboot. Mattel recently announced the Prince of Castle Grayskull would get a big screen adaptation, with attached to direct. Unfortunately, it looks like He-Man will not just be fighting Skelator, but also the complicated and convoluted world of copyright law.
Mattel, the toy maker who have long been responsible for He-Man products, has just filed a lawsuit in California against He-Man comic book writer Donald Glut.
According to the suit, Glut has recently come forward to assert he originally created the Masters of the Universe characters and is therefore entitled to copyright ownership. Mattel are seeking to to re-declare their rights, as they claim for more than three decades Glut's work was acknowledged to fall under the work-for-hire doctrine.
Under copyright law, the work-for-hire doctrine dictates that employees who create work at the behest of an employer are not legally recognized as the author. Instead the employer, in this case Mattel, is credited as the author.
On the other hand, Glut is claiming that he merely licensed his work to Mattel, which would mean it is subject to termination in 2016.
The history of He-Man is murky and complex, and it does seem difficult to pin-point one specific creator. Lead toy designer Roger Sweet, has certainly taken some credit, but Mattel are claiming that they, as a company, were behind the initial idea. The lawsuit argues that back in 1980 they tasked its design department with developing a new macho hero who could travel through various time periods. Glut is acknowledged as having created the back-story and some characters, but Mattel claim this was as "one of their independent contractors" who were following company instructions on "certain key elements."
Glut's initial work included four comic books starring He-Man in 1981, He-Man and the Power Sword, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds, and King of Castle Grayskull. It seems Glut is now claiming his creations do not fall under work-for-hire and is threatening to sue Mattel.
Mattel have responded that "Glut's claim is both baseless and stale" and point to various interviews that Glut has given over the years as evidence. For example in one interview from 2001, Glut explains:
My work on Masters of the Universe taught me one basic lesson: Don't create anything original, especially concepts that someone else will make millions of dollars from, unless you have a percentage of the profits or part ownership. It's a lesson I've managed to stick to since my days with He-Man and the gang.
In this instance, he appears to be acknowledging that he does not own the rights to He-Man and The Masters of the Universe. Personally, I can't see Glut winning this legal contest, especially after so long. Perhaps he's just a Glut-ton for punishment!
What do you think? Is Mattel right in their claims, or should Glut be the official owner of He-Man? Give us your opinion on the complex issue of copyright law below.