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This article is about a subject in the real world.
Information in this article is about real-life people, companies, and objects, which do not relate to the in-universe Sonic series.

Between January 2009 and October 2015, comic writer Ken Penders filed a number of lawsuits and legal cases against Sega and Archie Comics Publishing (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.

Lawsuits

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 United States Copyright Office by Penders on various stories, characters, and artworks created by him for Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog comic 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 ACP, including characters he claimed to have created.[1]

Sega/Electronic Arts

In 2011, Penders filed a lawsuit against Sega and Electronic Arts (EA) for alleged copyright infringement in the video game Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood,[2] including the characters of the Nocturnus Clan, with Penders noting their appearance and narrative backstory being too similar to his Dark Legion. Then BioWare President, Greg Zeschuk, has stated in a Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood "developer diary" that:

I mean there's a lot of folks that are of course fans of the TV shows and comics and they know that there's a lot there, so it was a great chance for us actually to look at this huge bunch of stuff and pick really cool things to have the player do.[3]

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.[4] Although Penders did attempt to address the case with ACP 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.

Archie Comics

In December 2008, Penders attempted to acquire a copy of his original contract with ACP (1993). ACP would claim that they did not have a copy that dates back that far, as many were lost/destroyed in 1996 due to warehouse staff incompetence. In response to Penders filing of legal ownership in 2009 and announcement of his own original graphic novel project, ACP 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. They asked for a declaration over exactly what Ken Penders claimed to own.[5] As the comic was licensed, everything it had created, including the characters, legally belong to Sega. With Penders claiming ownership of the characters, this would make Sega the true, legal owners from the start. In 1999, Penders would state:

Part of the contract Sega has with Archie stipulates any and all characters created in the Sonic and Knuckles comic books become property of Sega[6]
Thus, Sega now owns everything I created in the Knuckles series, including Locke, Lara-Le and Julie-Su, to say nothing of characters like Geoffrey St. John, Hershey, Doctor Quack and Rob O' the Hedge, to name but a few. As a professional, I knew that going in, and had no qualms at the time. Now that I'm creating my own series, however, I must admit certain ideaswill[sic] probably never make it into the Sonic books, as I'm keeping those for my own use.[6]

Penders would later claim that he was "misinformed" about his rights. Although Penders did attempt to address the case of ACP alongside the Sega/EA case, the Statute of Limitations temporarily limited Penders' legal options and actions.

ACP originally claimed Penders had signed a "work for hire" contract,[7][8] making everything Penders had created the property of Sega, according to U.S copyright law.[9] While multiple photocopied documents were presented, there were multiple inconsistencies and Penders' would claim to have never signed any of those shown. Also, the earliest ACP presented was from 1996, whereas Penders began work in 1993. Penders would go on to say:

If Archie had been paying some form of royalties to all their creators prior to this, in all likelihood this discussion would never be taking place at all.
Every story since issue #160 that features my characters and concepts is essentially unauthorized, as I did not grant Archie Comics the right to use my creations for their benefit without compensation to me.[10]

ACP's legal team would ultimately fail to produce the proper contract from Penders' time of work at the company, so the lawsuit led to a settlement and ended on 26 June 2013.[2]

Loose ends

In late 2012, all characters created or introduced by 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.

Canceled lawsuit

On 20 October 2015, Ken Penders posted a tweet hinting another lawsuit, possibly directed at ACP and/or Sega, and asserted (to the audience) to not blame him "for what happens next". Although it does not mention (opposition) party members or Archie's 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.[11]

Other

Penders' actions would later inspire fellow former writer Scott Fulop to pursue legal action against ACP for unauthorized use of his characters (such as Mammoth Mogul) after his departure and reprinting of his stories and concepts. On 5 September 2017, Fulop lost the lawsuit against Archie.

On 8 April 2022 (the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 film's American release date), Penders stated on Twitter that he was contacting his legal team once again,[12][13] this time over the Echidnas and their backstory featured in the film. Specifically, Penders claimed that Knuckles' unnamed father[14] and the workings of the film's Master Emerald were derived from his characters, Locke and Enerjak.[15][16] While the powers of the in-games Master Emerald have been established since Sonic & Knuckles in 1994, Penders claims to have legal ownership over the ideas he created in 1996.[17]

Timeline of events

  • 1 January 2006 - Ken Penders leaves Archie Comics Publishing (ACP).[18]
  • September 2008 - BioWare releases Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.
  • December 2008 - Penders contacts ACP regarding his contract from the beginning of the comic's run, ACP claims to not have one dating back that far.
  • January 2009 - Penders begins filing for copyright registrations of his works to the U.S Copyright Office initially with no disclosure.[10]
  • 21 April 2010 - Penders' Copyright Registration applications (nearly 200) are approved by the US Copyright Office;[10] notifications are sent to both Sega Incorporated and ACP of Penders' copyright registration. Both companies are given opportunities to challenge the registration application.
  • 21 May 2010 - Sega and ACP initially fail to respond to the notifications; Penders is notified by the U.S. Copyright Office.
  • 1 June 2010 - The U.S. 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 - ACP files a lawsuit against Penders, alleging breach of contract.[19]
  • 31 December 2010 - ACP allows their contract with Sega to expire in order to negotiate new terms.
  • 31 May 2011 - Penders files a civil lawsuit against Sega Incorporated and Electronic Arts (EA) alleging that Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood infringed on his copyrights.
  • May 2011 - Penders is forced to limit his legal options due to the Statute of Limitations regarding the ongoing lawsuit against Sega and EA.
  • 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 due to ongoing ACP v. Penders 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. The case is dismissed for a second time by Judge Wright.
  • October 2011 - ACP and Sega settle on a new contract; Archie looses exclusive rights to publish Sonic comics.
  • 24 October 2011 - ACP v. Penders case, originally scheduled to begin 31 October, is delayed till 17 January 2012.
  • 17 January 2012 - The trial for the ACP v. Penders case is delayed to 31 January as the argument and summary are reviewed by the court.
  • May 2012 - An appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is filed by Penders regarding his case against Sega and EA.
  • 16 July 2012 - Judge Berman rules against summary judgement in the ACP v. Penders case.
  • 29 November 2012 - ACP and Penders agree to terms of settlement. Archie did not agree with Penders' claims of ownership, but would not pursue a legal claim against him should he use the properties.
  • April 2013 - Sonic the Hedgehog #247 is released to the public; this marks the final canonical appearance leading up to the Second Genesis Wave.
  • 3 May 2013 - Both ACP and Penders' lawyers meet in court and are "desperate" to settle.[20]
  • 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 Super Genesis Wave take effect; mass character purges and continuity re-write begins.
  • Late-October 2013 The Ninth Circuit appellate court upholds Judge Wright's initial ruling; Penders proceeds to explore additional legal options.

Aftermath

The settlement of the case, as noted by Penders, granted ACP 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.[2] Regardless of the outcome of both legal cases, much of the ACP-exclusive Sonic the Hedgehog characters, story, and universe created directly by Penders were purged from the continuity at the combined behest of Sega and ACP 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 ACP regarding this.

Due to the Penders v. ACP 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 Penders or Ian Flynn but by previous members of the Archie Team (such as Karl Bollers' Mina Mongoose and Megan Acorn) 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:

  1. To ensure similar legal complications do not arise again.
  2. To keep the comic series' universe and stories more in line with the games at Sega's behest.

Penders continues his work on The Lara-Su Chronicles and is working on a book concerning the case against Sega and EA and has been open on disclosing further information.[2] Sega and ACP have remained relatively silent on the matter and little information of the case against Penders has been disclosed to the public by said party members.

Mandates

There was a flash of light... and then I was somewhere... new... but familiar. I met all these new friends... but I already knew them. There was a huge fight, and then... I needed more time.


Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog #230

As per the legal settlement of the case, new and increased mandates from Sega were put into effect in any and all Sonic the Hedgehog related contents, including (but not limited to): video games, television series, films, toys, and even comic books. For Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog comic series specifically, as relevant to the legal case, the following mandates in effect were (but possibly not limited to) as follows:

  • Sega-specific original characters were not permitted familial relationships unless already established (like Cream and Vanilla) with some limited exceptions (eg. Uncle Chuck). ACP-exclusive characters(Sally, Rotor, Bunnie, Antoine) were permitted, however.
  • Use of 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 the following Sonic games were not permissible:
  • Replacing said characters with post-incarnations however, was permissible. (eg. Maximillian AcornNigel Acorn).
  • ACP were forbidden to reference Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, Sonic Underground or Sonic X unless granted specific permission from Sega.
  • ACP was forbidden from using the character Eggman Nega unless specifically granted permission from Sega.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog'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. (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 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 or between Sega's characters (Sonic and Sally).
  • 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 characters could not be "killed-off."

An example of the established-requirement of censorship of emotion from Sonic the Hedgehog #166. (left: original, right: current)

  • Sonic is not allowed to show excessive emotion.[21]

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 may also have been present before the advent of Penders' legal cases.

It is worth noting that many of these mandates were gleaned from a screenshot of a post made by Ian Flynn on his old website. Flynn's co-host, Kyle Crouse, has since confirmed on the BumbleKast that this image was doctored, and not actually posted by Flynn.[22]

Continuity purge

SONIC IS BACK and facing the HUGE consequences...as the crossover crashed to a close, Sonic and Tails have returned to a world which is reeling from the cataclysmic effects...the damage was severe, the threats have changed, and the mysteries are piling up!


Sonic the Hedgehog #252 official solicitation.

A number of characters and concepts were permanently removed or suspected permanently removed from the continuity due to the legal settlement as dictated by the ACP/Sega/EA v. Penders collective cases.

Permanent removal

A number of characters and concepts were permanently removed from the continuity due to the legal settlement and never returned under the circumstances ruled by the settlement. These characters and concepts include:

Total: 227

Suspected permanent removal

It was Knothole, not OUR Knothole, but...
Yeah! It's close enough. If Knothole can get a second chance, maybe we can too.


Miles "Tails" Prower and Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog #254

While several characters and concepts 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 Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog comic series, none of these characters or concepts 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 and concepts which have made recent appearances before the events of the Super Genesis Wave:

Total: 46

Grand total: 245

References

  1. Oliver, Tristan (1 December 2010). Archie Comics Files Federal Lawsuit Against Ken Penders. TSSZ News. Archived from the original on 4 December 2010. Retrieved on 12 June 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Update on the SEGA/EA case. Ken Penders Forums. Archived from the original on 24 May 2016. Retrieved on 11 June 2016.
  3. SEGATTACK (5 September 2008). Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (DEVELOPER DIARY). YouTube.
  4. 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.
  5. Johnston, Rich (24 June 2011). The Ken Penders/Archie Comics Lawsuit Continues. Bleeding Cool. Archived from the original on 12 June 2012.
  6. 6.0 6.1 T2 (31 July 1999). Sega Owns All!. SonicHQ. Archived from the original on 19 February 2019.
  7. Ken Penders (@KenPenders) on Twitter. Twitter (10 April 2019). "Ken Penders: Since people have been asking for details of my legal fight with Archie, I recommend the following;"
  8. TheAmazingSallyHogan (@theamazingsallyhogan) on Tumblr. Tumblr.
  9. Circular 9: Work-Made-For-Hire Under the 1976 Copyright Act (PDF). U.S. Copyright Office.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Johnston, Rich (10 July 2010). Ken Penders Claims Sonic The Hedgehog Rights. Bleeding Cool.
  11. SSF1991 (20 October 2015). Ken Penders Hints Second Lawsuit In Tweet. TSSZ News. Archived from the original on 24 November 2015. Retrieved on 11 June 2016.
  12. Ken Penders (@KenPenders) on Twitter. Twitter (8 April 2022). Archived from the original on 9 April 2022. Retrieved on 9 April 2022. "5ft12: What are you going to do about it? Do you think you have grounds to sue? / Ken Penders: I’ll let the attorneys hash that out."
  13. Ken Penders (@KenPenders) on Twitter. Twitter (8 April 2022). Archived from the original on 9 April 2022. Retrieved on 9 April 2022. "SlyFelix: It gave me alot of ken penders vibes for sure. I was worried if you'd might sue. lol / Ken Penders: Not ruling out anything. Yet."
  14. Ken Penders (@KenPenders) on Twitter. Twitter (8 April 2022). Archived from the original on 9 April 2022. Retrieved on 9 April 2022. "Ken Penders: Oh, believe me, I had raised eyebrows when I learned of Knuckles’s dad. Somebody has some ‘splaining to do."
  15. Ken Penders (@KenPenders) on Twitter. Twitter (8 April 2022). Archived from the original on 9 April 2022. Retrieved on 9 April 2022.
  16. Ken Penders (@KenPenders) on Twitter. Twitter (8 April 2022). Archived from the original on 9 April 2022. Retrieved on 9 April 2022. "Ken Penders: I guess I really need to see @SonicMovie 2, as I’m hearing from several Sonic fans that 1 of my characters is now canon to the film series. #Enerjak"
  17. Ken Penders (@KenPenders) on Twitter. Twitter (8 April 2022). Archived from the original on 9 April 2022. Retrieved on 9 April 2022. "Ken Penders: Nice try, but you’re ignoring several key elements that will be argued over. Get back to me when you understand all the issues involved."
  18. Penders, Ken (1 January 2006). THE TIMES, THEY ARE A'CHANGIN'. KenPenders.com. Archived from the original on 4 January 2006.
  19. Archie Comic Publications, Inc. v. Penders. Justia.
  20. Johnston, Rich (9 May 2013). Archie Desperate To Settle, But Can't Without Sega – The Latest In The Ken Penders Sonic Comics Case. Bleeding Cool. "Judge Berman: Does your client want to settle? / Joshua Paul (ACP): Desperately, your Honor."
  21. Encyclopedia Sonnica (@greenyvertekins) on Tumblr. Tumblr (2015). Archived from the original on 1 March 2021. Retrieved on 12 June 2016.
  22. BumbleKast for March 7th, 2022 - Priority Q&A Podcast with Ian Flynn. YouTube. BumbleKing Videos (7 March 2022). Retrieved on 13 May 2022.

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