Following up on a post from two years ago detailing the the lawsuit filed by colorist William Crabtree against Robert Kirkman over Invincible , the case has now settled. The two sides reached a confidential settlement, and the case was dismissed.
In November, the judge overseeing the case issued a declaratory judgment ruling that denied some of Crabtree’s claims and allowed some to proceed. In particular, the court allowed Crabtree to pursue claims related to breach of contract and to seek invalidation of the Certificate of Authorship he signed in 2008, but only to the extent relating to lack of consideration given for the agreement or to clarify the meaning or scope of the agreement. Due to the statute of limitations, the court denied Crabtree’s claims to seek declaratory relief that he was a joint author of Invincible, claims for promissory fraud, and invalidation of the Certificate of Authorship due to fraud.
As I pointed out when it was first filed, this case could have been an interesting case to shed light on the copyright ownership rights of colorists. Does the work of a colorist entitle them to an ownership in the copyright of a comic book? Can their work be considered work-made-for-hire? Unfortunately, the court found that Crabtree waited too long to file the lawsuit. Under the copyright act, there is a three year statute of limitations in which to bring claims. The court found that Crabtree had definite notice in 2012 that Kirkman was denying his claims of ownership and waiting until 2022 to file the lawsuit exceeded the time to bring a claim.
This is an important reminder to understand your rights, and if you feel they are being denied, to seek an attorney’s advice on next steps. Had the lawsuit been filed earlier, then the case may have turned out differently.