Between January 2009 and October 2015, the comic writer Ken Penders created or directed a number of lawsuits and legal cases against Sega and Archie Comics Publishing (abbreviated as ACP) related to the rights of his characters in the Sonic the Hedgehog comic series and its spin-offs. By the time of the case's closure in October 2015, a number of lawsuits had resulted in the creation of a reformed timeline in the comics and the removal of a number of characters created and used by Penders.
U.S. Copyright Office
A series of lawsuits filed by Ken Penders against Sega/ACP and related subsidiary companies (and vice versa) began with the first case on 1 January 2009. During this time, Copyright was lodged to the U.S. Copyright Office by Penders on various stories, characters, and artworks created by him for Archie Comics Publishing's Sonic the Hedgehog comic book series and its spin-off titles.
On 21 April 2010, the U.S. Copyright Office began certifying Penders' copyright claims, resulting in any Sonic the Hedgehog and Knuckles the Echidna stories he had created to be officially recognized and acknowledged by the U.S. Government as his intellectual property. In doing so, Penders stated that he was now in the position "to use any legal means deemed necessary to protect and preserve" his work from the Archie comics, including characters he claimed to have created.
In 2011, Penders filed a lawsuit against Sega and EA Games for alleged copyright infringement in the video game Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, including the characters of the Nocturnus Clan, with Penders noting their appearance and narrative backstory being too similar to his Dark Legion. It is believed that this similarity is what initially sparked the lawsuit. This eventually led to a massive reboot of the long-running comic series, and the retirement of all its echidna characters (save for the echidnas created by Sega, such as Tikal and Knuckles) and most non-Sega characters under Penders' claim.
The lawsuit ended in stalemate when the case was dismissed for the second time and upheld in court in October 2013. Although Penders did attempt to address the case with Archie Comics Publishing alongside the current ongoing case, Penders was forced to temporarily limit his legal actions due to the Statute of Limitations. He will be unable to file again unless characters and concepts from Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood are used in the future.
In response to Penders filing of legal ownership in 2009 and announcement of his own original graphic novel project, Archie Comics proceeded to file a cease-and-desist letter and lawsuit against him in the fall of 2010 in an attempt to retain their copyright holdings of his characters and concepts. As the comic was licensed, everything it had created, including the characters, legally belong to Sega. Although Penders did attempt to address the case of Archie Comics Publishing alongside the Sega/Electronic Arts case, the Statute of Limitations temporarily limited Penders' legal options and actions. Archie originally claimed Penders had signed a "Work for Hire" contract, making everything Penders had created the property of Sega. However, Archie Comic's legal team failed to produce the contract from Penders' time of work at the company, so the lawsuit led to a settlement and ended on 26 June 2013.
In late 2012, all characters created or introduced by Ken Penders were removed from any further use or reference in Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog comic franchise. Due to story arcs in production at the time in both Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic the Hedgehog #243-#246) and Sonic Universe (Sonic Universe #46-#49) heavily featuring characters created by Penders, both books were subject to sudden rewrites (with changes in font sometimes even mid-sentence) and art edits. Sonic the Hedgehog #244-#246 were entirely rewritten to remove dozens of characters from the advertised Knuckles-centric story, Sonic Universe #46-#47 replaced Rob O' the Hedge and Mari-An with the functionally-similar Bow Sparrow and Thorn the Lop, and most of the affected issues were subject to edited cover art, ranging from removed characters to entirely redrawn covers. Additionally, Rob's removal forced the rewriting of Sonic Universe #46's entire Off Panel.
Additionally, reprinted material is books such as Sonic Super Special Magazine #6 and Sonic Super Digest #2 greatly deviated from the content advertised before their release. Both books advertised Chaotix stories (namely the "Return to Angel Island" arc which was intended to be split up between the books), but Sonic Super Special Magazine #6 instead ran stories from the Iron Dominion story arc and both books avoided reprinting any stories containing work by Ken Penders. The Sonic SUper Digest series also omitted Julie-Su and Saffron Bee entirely from the Chaotix profiles, and all Penders-created locations on Angel Island were renamed on the included map to generic terms. Additionally, the stories that reprinted in the magazine edited most mentions of the Dark Egg Legion into "Eggman's Army," and an entire page featuring Lien-Da was removed from the Sonic the Hedgehog #209 reprint.
On 20 October 2015, Ken Penders posted a tweet hinting another lawsuit, possibly directed at Archie Comics Publishing and/or Sega incorporated, and asserted (to the audience) to not blame him "for what happens next". Although it does not mention (opposition) party members or Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog character or continuity specifically, it may be in regards to some comic book issue reprints by ACP which either involves or possibly breaches a term(s) of the previous lawsuit settlement in some way or another.
Penders' actions would later inspire fellow former writer Scott Fulop to pursue legal action against Archie for unauthorized use of his characters (such as Mammoth Mogul) after his departure and reprinting of his stories and concepts. But on 5 September 2017, Fulop lost the lawsuit against Archie.
Timeline of events
- September 2008 - BioWare releases Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.
- January 2009 - Ken Penders begins filing for Copyright Registrations of his works to the U.S Copyright Office initially with no disclosure.
- 21 April 2010 - Penders' Copyright Registration applications are approved by the US Copyright Office; notifications are sent to both Sega Incorporated and Archie Comics Publishing of Penders' Copyright registration. Both companies are given opportunities to challenge the registration application.
- 21 May 2010 - Sega Incorporated and Archie Comics Publishing (ACP) initially fail to respond to the notifications; Penders is notified by the US Copyright Office.
- 1 June 2010 - The US Copyright Office begins officially filing Penders' registrations. Certificates of Registration and legal documents regarding Copyright details are received by Penders.
- July 2010 - Penders begins serving public notification of his Copyright registrations.
- 23 November 2010 - A lawsuit is filed at Penders by the ACP, alleging breach of contract.
- May 2011 - Penders is forced to file a lawsuit against Sega Incorporated and Electronic Arts (EA) due to the Statute of Limitations.
- July 2011 - Both sides submit to Discovery in the ACP v. Penders case.
- August 2011 - Depositions are taken in the ACP v. Penders case.
- 26 September 2011 - Judge Otis Wright dismisses Penders v. Sega/EA case despite both mutual and active agreement between both parties to stay on the case.
- 30 September 2011 - The Penders v. Sega/EA case is refiled by Penders' legal team.
- 24 October 2011 - ACP v. Penders case, originally scheduled to begin October 31, is delayed till January 17, 2012.
- 17 January 2012 - The trial for the ACP v. Penders case is delayed to January 31 as the argument and summary are reviewed by the court.
- February 2012 - Penders v. Sega/ACP are dismissed for the second time.
- May 2012 - An appeal with the CA 9th Appellate Court is filed by Penders regarding his case against Sega Incorporated and Electronic Arts.
- 16 July 2012 - Judge Berman rules against summary judgement in the ACP v. Penders case.
- 29 November 2012 - ACP and Ken Penders sign a term sheet of agreement.
- April 2013 - Sonic the Hedgehog #247 is released to the public; this marks the final canonical appearance leading up to the Second Genesis Wave.
- 26 June 2013 - ACP and Penders formalize a Settlement Agreement.
- October 2013 - Sonic the Hedgehog #252 is released to the public; the terms of the Settlement Agreement and the Second Super Genesis Wave take effect; mass character purges and continuity re-write begins.
- Late-October 2013 The CA 9th Appellate Court upholds (Judge Wright's) initial ruling; Ken Penders proceeds to explore additional legal options.
- November 2013 - Penders continues work on The Lara-Su Chronicles and begins work on a book concerning the case against Sega Incorporated and Electronic Arts.
The settlement of the case, as noted by Penders, granted Archie Comics Publishing limited use of his characters on the limited conditions of (but not limited to) ownership acknowledgement and royalty sum payments. The reasons for ACP's decision not to use them however remained undisclosed to the public. Regardless of the outcome of both legal cases, much of the ACP-exclusive Sonic the Hedgehog characters, story, and universe created directly by Ken Penders were purged from the continuity at the combined behest of Sega Incorporated and Archie Comics Publishing due to some of the legal established terms of the case. This resulted in the forced-implementation of a continuity reboot of the series and massive story-line changes, much to the dismay of many fans. Notably, the characters created by other creators also vanished from the book, including those of Karl Bollers who has stated that he also owns the characters he created during his tenure as writer and has not been contacted by Archie regarding this.
Due to the Penders v. Archie Comic's lawsuit settlement ending in Penders' favor because of ACP failing to produce the relevant contract of Penders' time of work (resulting in a settlement in Penders' favor), other ACP-exclusive characters/stories not created by Ken Penders or Ian Flynn by previous members of the Archie Team (eg. Karl Bollers' 'Mina Mongoose', 'Megan Acorn' and others) were also systematically purged from the continuity in the form of the Super Genesis Wave. This may be relevant (but not limited to) to two primary reasons:
- To ensure similar legal complications do not arise again.
- To keep the comic series' universe and stories more in line with the games at Sega's behest.
Ken Penders continues his work on The Lara-Su Chronicles and is working on a book concerning the case against Sega Incorporated and Electronic Arts and has been open on disclosing further information. Sega Incorporated and Archie Comics Publishing have remained relatively silent on the matter and little information of the case against Ken Penders has been disclosed to the public by said party members.
As per the legal settlement of the case, new and increased mandates from Sega Incorporated were put into effect in any and all Sonic the Hedgehog related contents, including (but not limited to) games, television series, films, toys, and even comic books. For Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog comic series specifically, as relevant to the legal case, the following mandates in effect were (but not possibly limited to) as follows:
- Sega-specific original characters were not permitted familial relationships unless already established (like Cream the Rabbit and Vanilla the Rabbit) with some limited exceptions (eg. Charles Hedgehog). ACP-exclusive characters (Sally, Rotor, Bunnie, Antoine) were permitted, however.
- Use of Ken Penders characters or any of his content from the Pre-Super Genesis Wave was forbidden (although settlement granted ACP legal use of his creations under limited conditions, reasons for not doing so are not disclosed to the public by either ACP or Sega Inc. as of this time).
- Content from certain games were not permissible:
- Replacing said characters with post-incarnations however, was permissible. (eg. Maximillian Acorn → Nigel Acorn).
- Archie Comics Publishing were forbidden to reference Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, Sonic Underground or Sonic X unless granted specific permission from Sega Incorporated.
- ACP was forbidden from using the character Doctor Eggman Nega unless specifically granted permission from Sega Incorporated.
- Sonic's home planet was no longer permitted to be referred to as “Mobius”, be it Light, Dark, Prime, or otherwise.
- Only one Metal Sonic was permitted for appearance but no multiples.
- With the exception of the character Nicole allowing affected characters to remember the previous universe, these memories were forced to 'fade' and be rendered irrelevant.
- Character depictions such as Classic Sonic, Classic Tails, Classic Eggman, or any other classic depictions of Sega's characters were not permitted unless permission is given directly from Sega Incorporated. (However, some ACP publications showed scenes of the 'Classic' characters in shadows, silhouettes, or bear resemblance to them in flashbacks). This mandate appeared to have been lifted as of the 25th anniversary of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, however.
- Sonic was not allowed to “lose”. He could be "put down" and experience hardship but was not allowed to completely 'fail'.
- Main and/or significant characters were forbidden to form intimate or love-relationships. ACP-exclusive characters were permitted, however (Bunnie and Antoine) but not with Sega's characters (Sonic the Hedgehog and Sally Acorn).
- Original Sega characters were to conform and stay conformed to their modern designs as of Sonic the Hedgehog #71. None were allowed to change or modify their existing wardrobe or wear any different wardrobe at all, regardless of the story context. The permitted ACP-exclusive characters' appearances differentiated from the original continuity in some shape or form.
- Sega-exclusive characters could not be "killed-off". Whilst Archie-exclusive characters were not mentioned in this mandate, it remains unclear whether this rule may be applied to them also.
- Sonic and Sega-exclusive characters were not allowed to show excessive emotion.
While some mandates may be incomplete, other mandates and rules between ACP and Sega may have existed but remain undisclosed to the general public due to either private or legal reasons. Some mandates established by Sega Incorporated may also have been present before the advent of Penders' legal cases.
A number of characters were permanently removed or suspected permanently removed from the continuity due to the legal settlement as dictated by the ACP/Sega/Electronic Arts vs Penders collective cases.
A number of characters were permanently removed from the continuity due to the legal settlement and never returned under the circumstances ruled by the settlement. These characters include:
Suspected permanent removal
While several characters were not made by Ken Penders, some were no longer present in the continuity for reasons known or unknown to the public domain. Since the cancellation of the Archie Sonic comic series, none of these characters ever returned to the series, although as they do not belong to Penders, it is possible some of these characters may have returned when the situation was deemed permissible by either Sega or ACP had the series not been cancelled. This includes characters which have made recent appearances before the events of the Super Genesis Wave:
Grand total: 244
- Oliver, Tristan (December 1, 2010). Archie Comics Files Federal Lawsuit Against Ken Penders. TSSZ. Archived from the original on 4 December 2010. Retrieved on 12 June 2016.
- Update on the SEGA/EA case. Ken Penders Forums. Archived from the original on 24 May 2016. Retrieved on 11 June 2016.
- Listen to recording for case: Kenneth Penders, II v. Sega of America, Inc., et al, No. 12-55544. United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit. Archived from the original on 27 March 2021. Retrieved on 11 June 2016.
- SSF1991 (20 October 2015). Ken Penders Hints Second Lawsuit In Tweet. TSSZ. Archived from the original on 24 November 2015. Retrieved on 11 June 2016.
- Can listing various Sega mandates made for Archie Sonic Comic?. Tumblr (2015). Archived from the original on 1 March 2021. Retrieved on 12 June 2016.