Marvel Sues Kirby Heirs

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It was just a little over a week ago that Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment for a little over $4 billion to acquire it’s over 5000 characters.  Today, the ownership of some of those characters are in legal limbo as wrangling has thrown up who owns the copyrights to characters such as Spider-man, the Avengers, the Hulk, Fantastic Four, X-Men and many more.  Marvel filed legal action in New York, and sought to invalidate 45 notices to terminate copyright sent by his heirs in September.

Marvel’s actions followed a series of letters from Kirby estate attorney Marc Toberoff notifying copyright holders and licensors of his client’s intent to terminate copyright of around 45 properties at various points in the coming decade.  This legal action was an attempt by Marvel to avoid a potential costly behind the scenes battle with the family.

The characters are set to revert back to the estate of Jack Kirby (whose real name was Jacob Kurtzberg died in 1994) starting in 2014 and Kirby’s family has declared it will “vigorously defend” their case.  Marvel alleges that Kirby’s illustrations, published between 1958-1963, were drawn “for hire.”  The Kirby family is claiming Marvel is attempting to rewrite history and it’s relationship with the famous artist.

“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,” said company lawyer John Turitzin.

The Kirby family is claiming this is the usual m.o. to deprive creators of just compensation and ownership of their famous creations.

“It is a standard claim predictably made by comic book companies to deprive artists, writers, and other talent of all rights in their work,” Kirby’s lawyer, Marc Toberoff, said in a statement.

“Sadly, Jack died without proper compensation, credit or recognition for his lasting creative contributions.”

This legal battle and a reverting of properties back to the Kirby estate throws numerous projects into limbo as many have been licensed to movies, television shows and numerous products that bear the character’s likenesses.  There’s movies based on Thor, the Avengers and another Spider-man film all in the works.

This type of battle is becoming more common in the comic book industry.  We reported last year the Siegel estate is in a battle with DC comics over the rights to Superman.  Copyright law dictates that full ownership of Superman reverts back to the Siegels in 2013 which has forced DC to produce a new Superman film before that date.

The lawsuit possible had an affect on Disney stock as it fell 11 cents to $31.72 at 3:25 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

The case is Marvel Worldwide Inc. v. Lisa R. Kirby, 2010- cv-141, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).