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Variety Takes on the Next Big Comic Villain, Copyright

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Variety has run an article looking at the increasingly murky area of copyright and intellectual property when it comes to some of our most beloved characters.  While major publishers are reaping piles of cash, some creators and their heirs are using a provision in copyright law to challenge ownership.  FIGHT!

We’ve already seen Superman split down the middle:

A federal judge has split up key parts of the mythology. DC Comics and its parent Warner Bros. still control many key parts of the storyline developed after his debut in 1938, such as Superman’s ability to fly, Kryptonite and the character of Lex Luthor, not to mention international rights and trademarks.

But the heirs to co-creator and writer Jerry Siegel, according to a 2008 opinion from U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Larson, have a claim on such things as Superman’s distinctive blue leotard, a red cape and boots, his ability to leap tall buildings and repel bullets and to run faster than a locomotive, as well as other significant aspects of his origins.

The estate of Jack Kirby is taking on Marvel, over the rights to such characters as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four.

The slew of cases revolves around a 1976 revision of the Copyright Act that gives creators and their heirs the ability, under certain conditions, to reclaim ownership of characters after a passage of time, regardless of whether they had assigned their rights over at some point in their careers.  Also another provision of the Copyright Act lets creators of works on or after Jan. 1, 1978, to terminate deals (with some restrictions) in which they transferred ownership of material they created to a company.

Numerous lawsuits are already underway and the lawyers are also raking up the cash.  Only time (and a judge) will tell what the ending of this story is.