Mattel Wins Battle Over Rights to ‘Masters of the Universe’

A federal judge has sided with Mattel in its claim that it fully owns the rights to “Masters of the Universe,” despite a writer’s contention that his work on four comics packaged with the action figures entitled him to an ownership interest in the franchise.

Mattel sued writer Donald Glut in June, arguing that the writer had been claiming an interest in He-Man even though his work for the toy company was “for-hire.” Glut was enlisted in 1981 to create a backstory for Mattel’s Masters of the Universe product line, and the result was four mini-comics that were packaged with the characters.

But Glut, in his own motion for summary judgment, said that the comicbooks were based on a treatment he submitted to Mattel called “The Fighting Foe-Men.” His attorneys argued that he licensed the material to the toymaker, and that they otherwise needed to present a written contract describing his work as “for-hire.”

He served a notice of termination on “The Fighting Foe-Men” in August, exercising a portion of the Copyright Act of 1976 that gave authors the ability to recapture licenses to their works after a certain period. The exception are works made “for hire,” meaning that the employer who commissions a work is the statutory author.

Mattel argued that Glut had himself called his work one that was “for hire” in an interview in 2001 that was posted on his website, but then “dramatically changed his story.” They also claim that he waited too long to assert a claim for ownership.

U.S. District Judge Manuel Real granted summary judgment to Mattel in an oral ruling last week.

The He-Man characters became a popular cartoon series in the 1980s, helping to ignite a wave of animation based on toy lines. Sony and Escape Artists are developing a new feature film based on the characters.

Larry Iser, Kristen Spanier and Chad Fitzgerald of Kinsella, Weitzman, Iser, Kump & Aldisert represented Mattel. Kathryn Lee Boyd, Sherli Shamtoub and Kristen Nelson of Schwarcz, Rimberg, Boyd & Rader represented Glut.

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