Marvel responds to Jack Kirby heirs copyright claims

Q: What do Superman and Spider-Man have in common?

A: The heirs to the comics creators’ estates are suing to regain control of the copyright, which may put the production of any movies into doubt.

Similar to how earlier in 2009, the heirs to the estates of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sued to regain some part of the millions that were earned from Superman Returns‘s worldwide box office receipts, the heirs to Jack Kirby’s estate are seeking to terminate the hold that several companies have on the copyright to Spider-Man, the X-Men, and several other character that were created by Kirby during the Silver Age of comics.

Among the companies that were told that the rights would soon be reverting to the estate are Walt Disney Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Sony Pictures, each of whom have a great interest in making sure that they only have to pay Marvel Comics for the use of the characters in their big screen adventures.

Marvel responded last Friday by filing a lawsuit against the Kirby heirs stating that because Kirby’s work on the characters was under a “for hire” contract, his claim to the characters is invalid, according to many sources (but I’m using Digital Spy.com and Newser.com‘s accounts).

Marvel attorney John Turitzin commented on the Kirby heirs actions, stating that the heirs were trying “to rewrite the history of Kirby’s relationship with Marvel” and that “Everything about Kirby’s relationship with Marvel shows that his contributions were works made for hire and that all the copyright interests in them belong to Marvel.”

Marc Toberoff, also the attorney for the Siegel and Shuster heirs, responded:

The truth is that Jack Kirby was his own man. Like so many artists in the fledgling comic book industry of the late 1950s/early 1960s, Kirby worked with Marvel out of his own house as a freelancer with no employment contract, no financial or other security, nor any other indicia of employment.

Kirby’s wonderful creations, which leapt from the page, were not Marvel’s ‘assignments’, but were instead authored by Kirby under his own steam and then published by Marvel. It was not until 1972 that Kirby by contract granted Marvel the copyrights to his works. It is to this grant that the Kirby family’s statutory notices of termination apply.

What some are saying prompted the Kirby heirs to action was a recent change to the copyright laws which allows more avenues towards people regaining the rights to their work, but I have not been successful in seeking out the exact verbiage of the changes. If that’s true, then I really hope that they are able to get some control back.

However, unlike Siegel and Shuster’s situation, Stan Lee was also very much a part of the Silver Age character creation due to his employ of what became known as “the Marvel method” and since Lee has yet to make an official statement about the events, fan perception of how this all goes down could be split.

We’ll be bringing more news to you, as it happens.

Posted on January 11, 2010 at 07:54 by Trisha Lynn · Permalink
In: Comics, News · Tagged with: , , , , , ,

8 Responses

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  1. Written by molnek
    on January 11, 2010 at 14:24
    Permalink

    Wasn't Spider-Man co created by Steve Ditko?

  2. Written by Gordon McAlpin
    on January 11, 2010 at 14:58
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    It's a little more complicated than that. Wikipedia sums it up well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-Man

    I'm inclined to believe that Ditko had much more involvement than Kirby (or his heirs) claim, though.

  3. Written by johnpocalypse
    on January 12, 2010 at 10:43
    Permalink

    I think Ditko would have more of a right to sue for rights than Kirby would. Kirby was cool and all, and deserves some props for the awesome stuff he did have a hand in creating. I just don't see Spider-Man as one of those things.

  4. Written by Gordon McAlpin
    on January 12, 2010 at 16:00
    Permalink

    I don't think anybody does. But if Kirby went to Lee with a sketch of a character named “Spider-Man,” then public perception is irrelevant.

    I think what it really boils down to is what constitutes “creation.” Like, my friend Kurt suggested I do a comic strip about a bunch of kids who work at a movie theater. But he didn't create Multiplex; none of the characters were his ideas. None of the scripts were his ideas. Nothing about the building or the overriding themes or tone of the book were his ideas. He didn't even come up with the name “Multiplex.”

    But if he had said, “Hey, you should do a comic strip — called Multiplex — about a bunch of kids who work at a movie theater,” THEN, yeah, maybe it would be arguable that he co-created the series.

  5. Written by molnek
    on January 13, 2010 at 12:48
    Permalink

    See the whole problem is that they're coming out of the woodwork now wanting money. At least with Shuster and Siegel we know they made Superman before working at DC. But with Spidey who was created under Marvel I think it really does fall under the names on the first issues and who fleshed out the character. Sure Kirby might have had some input but from what wiki says: orphan moving in with older relatives? Off the top of my head that can go back to Wizard of Oz. It's like TV shows; they have writers on staff who haven't written an episode but they've put in some plot points or jokes or something but they don't get the credit for the finished product.

  6. Written by Gordon McAlpin
    on January 13, 2010 at 16:12
    Permalink

    In TV (not movies), those writers who put in plot points or jokes are called “producers.” So they do get a credit. Just not a writer's credit. Almost all of the producers, associate producers, etc. that you see in any dramatic or comedic TV show's credits are actually writers.

    But I'm not sure writing credits on a episode of a show are a good parallel for character (or even TV show) creation credits. Note that even a TV show has a show creator credited; it's not the same thing.

  7. Written by hammond parts
    on January 25, 2010 at 20:02
    Permalink

    Stay classy, Marvel.

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    on June 11, 2010 at 08:14
    Permalink

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