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industry news

Jack Kirby's heirs file suit for the King's superhero credits

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Monday, September 21, 2009

Four of the children of Jack "King" Kirby, the legendary comic book artist that co-created many of Marvel and DC Comics' legendary characters, have filed suit against a number of companies asking for the termination of use of the superheroes the artist helped create. 45 "notices of termination" (as the Los Angeles Times calls the legal papers) were sent out last week to Disney, Marvel, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures. If the courts rule in favor of the Kirby estate then none of these companies could continue using characters like the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Thor or the Hulk.

Acting on behalf of the estate is Toberoff & Associates, the same law firm that represents the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel in their case against Warner Bros. and DC Comics. Many of the characters were created in the 1950s and 60s. While Kirby passed away in 1994, copyright law states that a creator (or their heirs) can regain ownership of a creation after 56 years of first publication. Additionally the creator can give notice that they will want the return of the character up to 10 years before the copyright expires with the present owner. Kirby's children are in position right now to take back their claim on the character of Captain America, of which Paramount and Marvel Studis have a movie in development.

The Times states that under the copyright law Kirby's co-ownership of the Fantastic Four comes up in 2017; the Hulk in 2018 and the X-Men in 2019.

For Disney, who just paid $4 billion to own Marvel in its entirety, the spectre of losing copyright of such easily recognizable heroes is likely sending a chill down their legal representatives' spines. However, the company is putting on his poker face for the public. "The notices involved are an attempt to terminate rights seven to 10 years from now and involve claims that were fully considered in the acquisition," said a Disney representative about the case.

-The Los Angeles Times.
allsburg
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Posts: 4
Posted: 10 years 23 weeks ago

This isn't as straightforward as the Superman case. As I understand the law, the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act (yes, that's what it was called) allowed creators to reclaim their copyrights, but only if they originally owned the copyrights. Siegel and Schuster created Superman, and thus owned the rights, before they sold the rights to DC. That's why they were able to reclaim the rights. But I believe (could be mistaken) that Kirby was employed by Marvel when he created these characters, and that as "works for hire" the copyright vested automatically in Marvel in the first instance. (Same for Stan Lee.) If that's the case, I don't think the law gives Kirby any remedy. There's no copyright to "re"-claim, since Kirby never had the copyright to begin with.

WarCry
Location:
Posts: 152
Posted: 10 years 23 weeks ago

My conspiracy-theory goes like this:

Disney makes a back-room deal with the Kirby family, then let's them "win" the court case, negating the Fox, Sony, etc, contracts for X-Men, Spidey, etc. Then, out of the goodness of their hearts and the smartness of their financial advisers, they re-licenses the characters to Marvel/Disney.

Disney did say they'd be taking a hard look at those contracts, didn't they?

 You don't have to like it, you just have to do it. --Richard Marcinko