Robert E. Howard’s CONAN vs. CPI’s Conan

SFFaudio News

Queen Of The Black Coast by Robert E. HowardBroken Sea Audio Productions has received another letter from the law firm employed by Conan Properties International. This time, there appears to be some acknowledgment that the stories starring Robert E. Howard’s Conan aren’t the sole property of CPI.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the letter still shows that the lawyer for CPI don’t read their correspondence very closely. CPI’s lawyers still think that BSAP is selling something (they aren’t), and that by selling that product BSAP would be harming the market for the CPI’s own audio product (which doesn’t exist).

Here’s a |PDF| of the letter.

I’m hip deep into the audio drama version of Queen Of The black Coast, having just finished listening to episode 4, in which CONAN, Belit, and crew of the Tigress finally start up that poisoned river. It’s got a stereo soundscape that is so rich and full as to be unrivaled in podcast audio drama. Check it out for yourselves HERE.

To read the first letter check out our first post about this subject HERE.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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10 thoughts to “Robert E. Howard’s CONAN vs. CPI’s Conan”

  1. Well then Francis the reply I sent to the initial letter was incredibly civil, considering the charges they were leveling against us with absolutely no factual basis :-)

    Paul
    BrokenSea Audio Productions

  2. I just read both letters. Now IANAL, but I’m just not seeing what you seem to be seeing.

    The first letter spends two paragraphs spelling out background, and the third paragraph states that the logo infringes on their logo (I won’t dare speak to that one way or the other). I’m fairly certain the mis-statement that Broken Sea is selling something is irrelevant. Broken Sea *is* distributing a product, even if it’s for free.

    The second letter clarifies that they are not making claim on the content, only the logo, and that they did not request that Broken Sea stop distributing product, only change the logo. Then they make note that Broken Sea appears to have complied with the previous letter. It ends with a restatement that you can’t use a logo that looks like their logo or seems to say they endorse the product (which I imagine is a CYA maneuver in case Broken Sea hasn’t removed the old logo from someplace yet).

    Am I missing something?

  3. Jason,

    Yes, the third paragraph of the first letter is the one with the most oomph (it being the being the only one likely written specifically for BSAP). The first two are just showing the extent to which CPI will go to protect whatever it is they claim to have intellectual property over. Same with the last.

    It is the use of the terms like: “selling” “marketplace” “unfair competition” CPI is conflating culture (literature and art and the sharing of literature and art) with industry.

    BSAP could sell their audio dramas or audiobooks, they don’t. If they did, would it create unfair competition? No.

    For CPI has no audiobooks or audio dramas to license.

    All they could actually license are the words:

    CONAN and CONAN THE BARBARIAN (in whatever font they claim and I’m willing to suspect they claim a vast multitude).

    Now my question is for you would be: Do you think a corporation can own the words “Sherlock Holmes” and prevent publishers from using “Sherlock Holmes” on a cover of a book of sherlock holmes stories?

  4. From what I’ve seen I think “unfair competition” has some special meaning in trademark law that non-lawyers can’t understand because we’re not speaking the same language.

    I’m pretty sure that CPI has licensed Audiorealms to produce audiobooks, which is why the Conan stories that should be in the Audiorealms Weird Works stories are missing.

    Do you think a corporation can own the words “Sherlock Holmes” and prevent publishers from using “Sherlock Holmes” on a cover of a book of sherlock holmes stories?

    Legally, I’m pretty sure that’s how it works. That’s what a trademark is for. I see it all the time.

    Again, IANAL, but my limited understanding of trademark is that you can’t give someone leeway or you’ve set president and you loose the trademark.

  5. Jason,

    As far as I’m aware CPI has NOT licensed to anyone for audio INCLUDING Audio Realms.

    Nearly all Conan stories written by Howard are PD. I believe Audio Realms will have some out shortly, but I beleive they are not likely to be licensed by CPI.

    With the case of Sherlock Holmes, anybody can label a product with it, and reasonably so. In the case of Conan, I think CPI would have a strong case for defending the CONAN THE BARBARIAN trademark, but not CONAN itself, their claim to fonts notwithstanding. Whereas CONAN is found in the works of Howard that are PD. Conan is the character name, a persons name, and not just a trademark to license that has been in the continuous control of CPI since Howard death.

    Like I was saying, CONAN THE BARBARIAN is (as far as I am aware) not something found in the stories, rather, it is something that has been derived from derivative works. Which is why it is more likely safely trademarked.

    Anyway, that would be the way I would plead it out.

    Think of this:

    http://bp3.blogger.com/_nBXlG9HUYeA/RwmVzTsP3JI/AAAAAAAAAzg/9QR63LlN2A8/s1600-h/1.jpg

    This is a case where advertising the product as Mikey Mouse in Steamboat Willie would not be an infringement of trademark. As the film, including the frame depicted is PD.

    Were I to remix the movie of Steamboat Willie (careful not to insert anything from a still copyrighted MM movie)I might arguably be able to label it MICKEY MOUSE in STEAMSPACESHIP WILLBUR (or somesuch) and be in a fairly defensible position. It would not necessarily be one that I could win under sustained legal assault from Disney, but certainly one worth trying if I were so inclined and deep pocketed.

    If there were a company called SHERLOCK HOLMES PRODUCTS INTERNATIONAL it could sell you the rights to use the SHERLOCK HOLMES trademark, but wouldn’t it be more logical not to bother buying those rights from it when the character itself is PD?

    I dare say that the claims to CONAN (alone and not with THE BARBARIAN) by CPI are extended as far as they dare (and not so far as they could vigorously defend in a well matched court case today), and that their claim is far more justifiably firm upon trademark of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (again notwithstanding their claim to a combination of the word and the font).

  6. Thanks for the correction.

    Also I think you’re correct about AudioRealms (for some reason I thought their cover mock-up for “People of the Black Circle” mentioned Conan on it, but it doesn’t).

    Anyway, I hope Broken Sea keeps producing these, which was why I posted in the first place.

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