Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica can get back to life in Riverdale, thanks to a judge.
U.S. District Judge Vincent Briccetti has ruled that Narrative Ark Entertainment of Mamaroneck and owner Scott Fulop waited too long to accuse Archie Comic Publications of Pelham of infringing copyrights. He also found that Archie had no grounds to countersue Fulop.
“This case boils down to an ownership dispute,” Briccetti said in his Aug. 29 opinion.
Fulop worked for Archie Comics in the 1980s and 1990s and then continued as a freelancer, creating stories, characters and artwork. When he discovered that Archie was republishing the stories and still using the characters, he copyrighted the works and transferred the rights to Narrative Ark Entertainment.
Archie Comic Publications claims it had already registered the works and assigned its rights in 2012 to Sega of America, a videogame producer.
Archie paid Fulop for his work but there is no evidence, Briccetti found, that they signed an agreement that governed ownership.
Fulop argued that Archie had bargained only for first publication rights in North America. Thus, any republication infringed on Narrative Ark’s copyrights.
Archie argued that Fulop registered his creations as “work made for hire,” a designation that also required a signed, written agreement with Archie.
Fulop demanded compensation for his work in 2015 and sued Archie in 2016.
A three-year statute of limitations applies in copyright cases, and the clock starts to tick when a “reasonably diligent plaintiff” becomes aware of the ownership issue.
The evidence shows that Fulop knew by 2010 that Archie was reprinting the works, but he chose to wait until 2015, more than three years later, to assert claims. Therefore, Briccetti ruled, his claims are time-barred.
But Archie lacked standing to pursue a counterclaim for relief because it had transferred its interests to Sega no later than 2012. Thus, only Sega had the right to sue Narrative Ark for purportedly infringing on its rights.
Briccetti also agreed with Fulop that Archie could not sustain a counterclaim for slander, because no reasonable juror could conclude that he had acted with a guilty mind. Archie would have to show ill will or reckless disregard for truth.
But Archie, Briccetti said, “has not offered any probative evidence that Fulop acted with malice of either kind.”
Archie Comic Publications was represented by Jed Ferdinand and Alexander R. Malbin of Manhattan and John F. Olsen of Montclair, New Jersey. Fulop and Narrative Ark were represented by Neil A. Burstein of Cross River.