Kirby Estate Seek To Regain Control Of Rights To Characters

The New York Times is reporting (no registration required) that the heirs of Jack Kirby have sent notices of Copyright Termination to Marvel, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and others to regain the rights to various characters Kirby created or helped create, including The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man and The Avengers (or those members of the roster that Kirby drew).

Frankly, in my analysis (note: I’m not a copyright attorney), even if Kirby’s heirs win (which is not entirely unlikely, considering the success Jerome Siegel’s heirs have had in reclaiming the rights to Superman), ultimately this will probably just lead to the Siegel estate getting royalty payments off of Marvel comics that use characters created by Kirby, as well as films using the characters he created. It’s very unlikely that Marvel would lose the rights to the characters (particularly since Kirby was not the sole creator).

One reply

  1. Not only was Kirby not the sole creator, the work he did was done as work for hire. The Superman case probably didn’t set the precedent the Kirby lawyers believe, since Siegel and Shuster had documentation showing the characters in Superman were created first (as prose, in fact) and then brought to National Comics second, so the characters already existed. The characters named above, on the other hand, were created as work for hire. The FF, for example, were created when the publisher (back in the Atlas days) saw the sales numbers for “Justice League of America” and told Stan Lee to create a team book. Stan then brought the idea to Kirby. Yes, Kirby’s influence over the exact relationships between and forms of the characters is undeniable, but his Marvel work was invariably created at Marvel’s request, with the possible exception of the Eternals. Now, by all accounts his share of the profits for his co-creations was disgustingly small, but that doesn’t give him the sole copyright his heirs would need to issue a Copyright Termination (unless my admittedly feeble understanding of copyright law is wrong.)

    To me, this smells like someone who looked at the Superman settlement and decided to take a shot at Disney money. I expect they’ll be paid something, but I also expect publication of the characters to continue unhindered. Disney’s got deep pockets, but so does the Disney legal department.

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