Tag: Marvel

Marvel Comics, recently purchased by Disney

Captain America in Court

Earlier this year I questioned whether Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Comics would have any effect on the long-running battle between Marvel and the heirs of Jack Kirby over the ownership rights to his creations (which are legion). To date, the answer appears to be “No.” The production of the new Captain America film continues apace, the studio remains mum on issues surrounding Marvel, and the lawsuits quietly drag on. The Kirby heirs, of course, want back the copyrights to Captain America, Thor, the Fantastic Four, and all the myriad characters created over the course of Kirby’s long association with Marvel, and have sent notices to Marvel seeking to reclaim them under the termination provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976. This (quite frankly understandable) desire to reclaim ownership of material created by kith and kin has resulted in the pending lawsuit in New York in which Marvel seeks a declaration that Kirby’s creations are work-for-hire, and a separate lawsuit by the Kirby heirs seeking recovery of the ownership rights of those creations (or, presumably, several hundred million dollars).

Although nothing of moment appears to have happened in the litigation, and the parties continue to position themselves for the arduous fight ahead, the latest news is that the Kirby heirs have dismissed their California case, and will seek resolution of their dispute with Marvel in New York.

For a detailed description of the history leading up to the Kirby vs. Marvel lawsuit, as well as in-depth briefing on similar copyright lawsuits involving other superheroes (e.g., Superman), please see Paul Slade’s superb recent article, Superheroes in Court. And for those of you who want an explanation of how copyright termination works, jump to the recent podcast on that topic by the IP Colloquium.

Who Owns Captain America?

In January, Marvel Comics filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York seeking a declaration that all of Jack Kirby’s creations belong to Marvel under the “work -for-hire” doctrine.  This month, the Kirby kids have retaliated by filing suit against Marvel and Disney in federal court in Los Angeles seeking a declaration that the copyright termination notices they sent out last September are valid, and that the copyright in all of Kirby’s characters —  including Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Thor, and the X-Men — will revert to the heirs over the next several years.

The timing of the suit could not be better — given Hollywood’s continuing fascination with superheroes, and the upcoming release of the first Captain America movie, the litigation theatrics should commence shortly. Stay tuned for further details, and be sure to check out  Eriq Gardner’s article in the The Hollywood Reporter.

Disney Gets Marvel, But Who Gets the Characters?

When Disney announced that it was buying Marvel for $4 billion last fall, the hype failed to mention that Jack Kirby‘s kids were seeking to recover ownership rights to some of the most popular titles in recent times — including such luminaries as X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider Man, the Avengers, and the Incredible Hulk. While the notices of termination served by clan Kirby would not take effect until 2014 at the earliest, whether the heirs of the acknowledged co-creator of these characters can reclaim ownership rights is potentially a $1 billion question.  Given the increasing popularity of the superhero genre at the box office and — on the heels of Avatar — the obvious interest in producing 3D tales of their heroic adventures, the battle for ownership is likely to be protracted. In response to the Kirby’s shot across the bows, Marvel last month filed suit in federal district court in Manhattan seeking a declaration that Kirby’s creation of the characters was simply work-for-hire, and that his heirs have no ownership interest nor right to any additional compensation.

If the story has a familiar ring to it, that’s because this bell has been rung before. Those of you who follow the always-entertaining rulings produced by Hollywood copyright skirmishes will recall that in 2008 the heirs of Jerry Siegal recovered a share of the copyright in Superman, which had been sold to Detective Comics for $130 in 1938. Doubtless the Kirby kids are seeking a bigger check than that.

To follow the saga of the Kirby’s claims in more detail, start with Ben Fritz’s article in the LA Times and follow the links.