The Cow goes...Top Cow counter sues Aspen

Fri, June 13th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

[Top Cow]The second act of the nasty legal battle we told you about earlier this week has begun.

Tuesday CBR News posted details of a law suit filed by Michael Turner's company Aspen MLT, Inc. against Top Cow Productions which alledged copyright infringement of the character Fathom, among others. Late Thursday, Top Cow's Matt Hawkins released an open letter to the press in which the company defended their position, responded to Aspen's accusations and revealed the full text of the company's counter complaint filed against Aspen on June 11th in California District Court. Scans of the legal documents can be found on Top Cow's Web site. The full text of the open letter is reprinted below without any editorial comment.

An open letter from Top Cow:

By now you are all aware of the growing legal rift between Top Cow Productions and Aspen MLT. We understand that this must be very frustrating and confusing for all of you. We would just like to go on record as saying that we are dismayed and frustrated as well at this unfortunately necessary turn of events.

While both the Aspen lawsuit and Top Cow's counter suit are now public record, there seems to be some fan confusion on certain issues. We would like to address some of those issues here.

First, there is the misconception that Top Cow "blindsided" Aspen by suing them and without warning prevented the publishing of Aspen #1. This, in fact, is not true.

Top Cow had several face-to-face meetings with Michael Turner immediately following notification that Aspen MLT had been formed. Through these meetings and subsequent letters between both companies' legal counsel, Top Cow's concerns were clearly expressed. Mr. Turner's attorney, at that point, sent a cease and desist demand to Moore action Collectibles, Dynamic Forces, and Diamond Distribution to cease and desist demand for all Fathom product (these were products already produced, sold, and/or bought before Mr. Turner had even left Top Cow). Top Cow in turn sent a letter of its own to Aspen's attorney asserting its contractual rights while asking for a settlement. Aspen's ultimate response to Top Cow's request for a settlement was to sue Top Cow. Since this was now a legal dispute between Top Cow and Aspen and both parties had requested cease and desist demands, Diamond decided to honor both requests and not distribute any questionable material until the two parties resolved the matter. So no, Aspen MLT was not blindsided and it was Aspen that sued Top Cow.

Further, the issue of how Mr. Turner left Top Cow needs clarification. Before Mr. Turner left Top Cow productions in December 2002, he covertly – and during good faith negotiations with Top Cow – persuaded other Top Cow employees to breach their contracts with Top Cow and join Aspen MLT. Also before he left, Turner along with Frank Mastromauro defrauded Top Cow and mislead Top Cow into spending substantial monies creating further issues of Fathom and in the development and promotion for the comics Soulfire, Ekos, and Checkmate for publication at Top Cow. They encouraged Top Cow to spend a considerable amount of its resources for the development of these properties knowing full well that they would soon take them to Aspen. As far as all the employees at Top Cow knew, everything was fine. When told by Mr. Turner about Aspen and its intentions, all were shocked and dismayed, to say the least.

During his relationship with Top Cow and in exchange for paying him nearly one million dollars Mr. Turner agreed to and signed contracts that afforded Top Cow rights into Fathom, Soulfire, Ekos, and Checkmate. This was the only way Top Cow as a business could rationalize a deal so heavily weighted in Mr. Turner's favor. This was understood by both parties and is in fact clearly stated in contracts signed by both Michael Turner and Top Cow.

Despite being compensated for his work at well above industry standards, Mr. Turner had a complete disregard for the damage caused Top Cow by breaching his contracts and subsequent conduct. Through his actions and the manner in which he left, he placed Top Cow in an unfair and bad position. And while some people may not like it, Top Cow could not stand by and do nothing. Top Cow had to react. Top Cow has a duty to its fans, as well as its employees who have worked so hard on Top Cow's and Mr. Turner's behalf over the years, to protect its rights and its business.

The creation of a comic book, from concept to publication, is the combined effort of many talented people working hard together. A comic book publisher, such as Top Cow, carries all the expense of paying for employees, art supplies, computers and other overhead expenses to create a comic book. Top Cow contributes significant monies to the Image Central office to support an infrastructure where creators can self publish. Top Cow primarily publishes books where it pays guaranteed page rates comparable or better than the industry standard and covers all printing, marketing and distribution costs in exchange for substantial interest or outright ownership in the properties it publishes.

Ultimately, in this country, anyone is free to start his or her own company. The issues here are not about Michael Turner starting his own company, this is, after all, a free country built on free enterprise and starting his own company is his right. Rather, the issues here are about Mr. Turner not honoring his contractual agreements and his misrepresentations to Top Cow.

You can view Top Cow's lawsuit here: http://www.topcow.com/lawsuit/index.html

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