Alex Norris makes those wonderfully downbeat webcomics featuring the "Oh No!" guy, but it turns out that they've been doing legal battle for years with Golden Bell, a company that they signed a deal with.
Since 2019 I've been in an expensive, stressful legal battle to protect Webcomic Name (my "oh no" comics). It's a relief to finally talk about this publicly! I'm launching a crowdfunder to pay my— Alex Norris (@dorrismccomics) November 8, 2022
remaining legal fees to end this. 1/8 https://t.co/1XcihGB885
Norris writes that they were assured only a license to make a board game was being offered, but Golden Bell filed trademarks on the webcomic itself and even the "Oh No!" catchphase, which wasn't mentioned anywhere in the contracts. Moreover, Norris claims, they did artwork for the project, including 400 illustrations, and have not received the advance nor copies of the supposedly forthcoming game.
I have been fighting this case since 2019. It arose out of an agreement to make a boardgame based on my webcomic in 2017 but the publishing company has used this as an opportunity to take all of my intellectual property, and has even claimed ownership of Webcomic Name as a whole. I can't go into more detail here, but the details of the case are publicly available to read online.
Indeed. Here's the docket and here's the lawsuit as filed.
Among the claims:
• It swiped art from Norris's Facebook page and used them as specimens in its own trademark applications.
• It claimed in its application that it was the owner of the work.
• It claimed that "the mark was in use in commerce at the time of the application" by them.
Goldner and GBE made these statements knowing they were false. Indeed, Goldner knew that: (i) plaintiff never assigned his rights to his "Oh No" trademark to any of the defendants, in fact, in fact the agreement does not even mention the mark; (ii) defendants have never used the mark in connection to the applied for goods; (iii) the specimens of use submitted were screenshots of plaintiff's Facebook page and plaintiff's webcomicname.com website.
If the trademarks stand, Golden Bell could stop Norris from publishing the comic, shut down their own Webcomic Name merch, replace them with a hack, and never pay them a cent.
From the docket, it appears the defendants are on their third or fourth legal team, that one lawyer filed a motion to strike their name from the record, and that one of the company's officers has acted pro se. It's already been strung out for years with delays and amendments, and Golden Bell just filed an extensive counterclaim—after the judge threatened it with sanctions when settlement negotiations collapsed.
Norris has a fundraiser up to help with legal expenses.
I would suggest not spending any money pre-ordering this boardgame—if nothing else, the creator isn't getting a copy and I don't fancy your chances either.
UPDATE: Here's the contract [via Reddit]. It's a total rights grab from the outset, and while Norris did get it specified to refer to the proposed board game, the "total rights grab" language remains throughout.