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Jack Kirby’s heirs seek to reclaim copyrights to some Marvel characters [Updated]

The Avengers #4

The Avengers #4

In a move that by now should be familiar to comics fans, the heirs of Jack Kirby are seeking to regain copyrights to some of the legendary artist’s creations.

The New York Times reports that 45 copyright-termination notices were sent last week to Marvel, Disney, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and others who have made films and other forms of entertainment based on characters that Kirby co-created.

The heirs, who are represented by Marc Toberoff — the attorney who helped the wife and daughter of Jerry Siegel regain a share of Superman last year — intend to reclaim copyrights to some properties as early as 2014.

A copyright dispute that involves many of Marvel’s marquee characters obviously adds a wrinkle to the recently announced $4-billion purchase by Disney.

Although the article doesn’t say which characters are specified, the movie studios listed may offer a clue: Sony Pictures holds the film rights to Spider-Man; Universal had the Incredible Hulk; Fox has the X-Men and Fantastic Four; and Paramount has the distribution rights to several of the Marvel-produced projects, including the Iron Man movies.

In addition to those characters, Kirby also co-created (with Stan Lee) The Avengers, Thor, the Black Panther, the Silver Surfer, Nick Fury, Magneto, Galactus and Doctor Doom — to name but a few properties that have recently appeared, or are slated to appear, in film or on television.

Developing, naturally …

Update (7:09 p.m.): The Los Angeles Times breaks down some of the dates when Kirby’s children would be eligible to claim their father’s share of copyright: Fantastic Four in 2017, the Hulk in 2018 and X-Men in 2019. (The copyrights would continue for another 39 years under current law.)

The newspaper also manages to get a comment from a Disney spokesperson: “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.”

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110 Comments

Unless there’s something heretofor unknown about Kirby’s contracts with Marvel in the 1960s, none of the characters he created with Lee would be eligible for copyright termination under the 1976 legal revisions. Kirby (and Lee) were doing work-for-hire, so far as we know to this day.

Yeah, but good luck to ‘em all the same.

uh… whoo-boy… we’ll see if Disney lawyers are astute enough to handle this in a diplomatic manner.. i’m not sure what the heirs expect to gain now.. having, say, Captain America, completely divorced from the other marvel characters, in comics would suck..

Marvel needs to hire someone to plant some drugs on this guy and get him sent down the river for a few years.

Unless there’s something heretofor unknown about Kirby’s contracts with Marvel in the 1960s …”

To my knowledge, there were no contracts — and “work for hire” wasn’t defined in the United States until the Copyright Act of 1976.

When will someone convince Steve Ditko to file for his piece of the pie?

Q: Are we not men?

September 20, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Good for them! And fuck any fanboy who doesn’t like it!

Why does the article list Spider-Man as a possible property that the family would seek?

It’s certainly interesting. And the Kirbys know that the Disney organization will spend a lot of money on legal fees so that may be where they come out – is it worth the cost to fight it out until 2014? Can everyone go on with their movies knowing a pending lawsuit may take all their investment away?

It will be interesting to see the actual court documents to see what’s up.

Brian from Canada

September 20, 2009 at 4:22 pm

The article lists Spider-Man because Kirby helped create the character. Lee didn’t like the work being offered and switched artists to Ditko, who then added his own twists to the character. But it’s Kirby who did the first cover (Amazing Fantasy #15).

And it names it for the hopes of getting a Superman-level payout. If you haven’t heard, the families are getting a cut of all foreign revenues for the character over the past years because it wasn’t even considered at the time of creation — and that’s a big chunk of change if you think about the box office gross on these films for a start.

The sad part is that Marvel includes a clause in Stan Lee’s contract that states Lee and his heirs will not seek to reclaim the copyrights from the company (for the cost of $1 million/year). That’s legal proof that Marvel is aware that the rights issue exists — Joe Simon’s claims to Captain America another one — and that’s going to strengthen the Kirby case against Marvel.

They won’t get permission to take the characters away — that has to be Lee AND Kirby — but it will certainly cost Disney a chunk of change.

Not the 1976 “revisions”, rather the Copyright Extension Act passed in 1998 provided the means for notice of termination of transfer of copyright.

Pretty smart for Kirby’s kin to pop this up now. Wonder how long they’ve been sitting around waiting for a company like Disney to buy Marvel. I say ‘Good luck’ as well. Stan gets his piece of the pie and there’s no reason why the other creators who had just as much (if not more) of a hand in the creation process shouldn’t get there’s.

It would be interesting to see Ditko go after his as well, but he’s such a trippy character in his own right.

Ditko did the first AF #15 cover. Stan didn’t like the angle and had Jack do layouts for a cover that swung the camera back about forty-to-fifty degrees. Ditko did finishes for this cover.

The only thing Jack brought to the published work was a name, and even that was pilfered from a project he had done partial development with Joe Simon on in the mid-1950s, but never saw the light of day.

And Ditko will never “file for his piece of the pie” because he is firmly convinced that he has already =been= paid, in full, for his work as a freelancer, no matter what subsequent changes in the law may claim. He takes his signature and his word very seriously and would be highly unlikely to change his position regardless of how many truckloads of money were to be backed up to his brownstone. (Marvel, from what I understand, has already tried, though strictly on the QT.)

I don’t see much chance for that lawsuit. Superman was clearly a copyright transference, the Marvel characters? Not so much.

Also, I kinda remember that much of the basis for Joe Simon’s lawsuit for Captain America a few years ago (which I understand was somewhat sucessful and settled out by Marvel) was that he was the SOLE creator of the character. That could be detrimental for Kirby’s heirs.

Not to mention that Kirby had NOTHING AT ALL to do with the published Spider-Man character, although I am REALLY interested to see if that would mean that Ditko will testify in court about his participation on the character’s creation and, at the very least, shed some light on the details. I hope that happens!

On a personal note, I’m all for people owning the characters they create, but US law is at the corporations side on that matter. The Siegels lawsuit HAD a legal basis for itself, as would, say, one by Bill Everett’s heirs for the Namor character, which was published before Marvel Comics #1. But the Marvel characters were created at the company’s request.

And trying to get Thor’s copyright is a bit preposterous. The guy is a public domain figure!

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

This is just another nail in the coffin of comics. I’m of the opinion that all of these characters should probably be in the public domain by now (including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck et al), but if we’re going to play by the rules as they have been revised, then the entities who have spent all of the marketing money for decades into turning these characters into household names should be rewarded for them.

Kirby created a metric buttload of characters who will never again see the light of day due to public apathy and a lack of marketing muscle behind them. Same with Seigel and Shuster. The only reason the X-Men, Superman, and their ilk are still popular today is because they have grown and evolved over the decades to the point where the original creations are pale reflections of what we have today.

To my knowledge, there were no contracts — and “work for hire” wasn’t defined in the United States until the Copyright Act of 1976.

It seems like Kirby’s employment would meet that definition, though. After all, he developed it in concert with Lee, who was most definitely in Marvel’s employ, since he was EIC.

I can certainly see Marvel/Disney/whoever paying them some money not to rock the boat, though, which is likely what they’re after.

I think without a lot of documentation, it’ll be an uphill and likely futile fight. By the time Marvel came on the scene, I think even a company that operated ‘without contracts’ (not sure I believe that, but I have no idea, myself) was perfectly aware of the rights issues and would have something in place to prevent this sort of thing.

Are the heirs asking for a piece of The Eternals? Machine Man? Devil Dinosaur? Or only the characters who have made it big in movies?

I’d like to how what Stan Lee feels about this.

I hope they at least get a settlement like Stan and agree that the rights can’t be held by the family in perpetuity. Even while Jack was alive, the only thing he aggrieved Marvel was about returning his artwork because he was working for Marvel and sorry, the company still owns the characters. If I develop some new software while I am working for a company, they own it, not me.

It would be interesting to see the outcome because it sort of reminds me of the case of the makers of Bratz dolls vs Mattel, which Mattle won. It essentially says that anything that the designer creating while tenured as a Mattel employee belonged to Mattel.

It would seem logical that the characters Kirby created after he came back to Marvel would be easier to reclaim, as Marvel had next to nothing to do with the creation of those characters.

Work For Hire was a dodgy idea during the time that Kirby did most of his work for Marvel. With statements made on the record about how some of those characters came to be, it certainly looks like the Kirby estate will have a pretty good legal argument as to reclaiming some of those characters.

Iron Maiden said:

“If I develop some new software while I am working for a company, they own it, not me.

It would be interesting to see the outcome because it sort of reminds me of the case of the makers of Bratz dolls vs Mattel, which Mattle won. It essentially says that anything that the designer creating while tenured as a Mattel employee belonged to Mattel.”

That may be true in those 2 cases, but it was not necessarily true when Kirby worked for Marvel. Laws have changed.

Copyright law has certain requirements as to when claims for ownership of copyright can be transferred. The 70s Kirby creations can’t be claimed by the estate until a certain time has passed. As for whoever said, “greedy bastards” I agree that Marvel/Disney have in the past been just that.

Kirby was not a Marvel employee, by the way. He was a freelancer used by them.

Brian G
September 20, 2009 at 5:07 pm
This is just another nail in the coffin of comics. I’m of the opinion that all of these characters should probably be in the public domain by now (including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck et al), but if we’re going to play by the rules as they have been revised, then the entities who have spent all of the marketing money for decades into turning these characters into household names should be rewarded for them.

Kirby created a metric buttload of characters who will never again see the light of day due to public apathy and a lack of marketing muscle behind them. Same with Seigel and Shuster. The only reason the X-Men, Superman, and their ilk are still popular today is because they have grown and evolved over the decades tothe point where the original creations are pale reflections of what we have today.

Are you kiddng? This may be one of the most ill-informed posts i’ve seen on CBR.

No, I think he has a point. If Kirby or any artist/writer self-published his stuff, then he would have no problem.
Marvel as a company was taking the risk of publishing, distributing and marketing. That stuff isn’t done for free. It’s a give and take situation. Kirby wanted a steady paycheck (no sin in that) but since he had a family to support , could not take the risk.

Jack Kirby knew and accepted the fact that he didn’t own the characters he was co-creating/creating for Marvel. I think the Kirby family is just out to get a piece of the Marvel/Disney pie. I don’t think they care about the characters or Jack Kirby’s legacy. They’re just a bunch of greedy pigs and they should be ashamed of them selves for smearing his name like this.

Q: Are we not men?

September 20, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Dumb fanboy opinion sighted!

Why is everyone acting as though Kirby created these characters on his own? Unless you were a fly on the wall in Marvel offices in the 60′s and you know for certain that they were created solely by Kirby, then it stands to reason that a ruling in favor of Kirby’s heirs would benefit Stan Lee equally.

Given that Lee already has an existing contract with Marvel, that sort of ruling would probably void his existing contract, which isn’t a bad one exactly. I imagine that Kirby’s side would probably need the cooperation of Lee and Ditko (in the case of Spiderman) in order to corroborate Kirby’s contention that he had a hand in creating Spidey.

One also has to consider that Disney’s acquisition of Marvel may be called-off as a consequence of this. Everyone is assuming that “Disney will pay this” or “Disney will make that settlement” that but actually, the deal hasn’t closed yet (we’re in the quiet period, remember) and Disney can just walk away citing a material adverse change. After all, it took great pains in emphasizing that it was interested in Marvel’s intellectual property of 5,000 + characters when it made the offer; if its ownership of this intellectual property (IP) is called into question, then the motivation behind Disney’s offer may no longer be valid.

It would then be up to Marvel to prove that Disney made the acquisition irrespective of any pending litigation regarding its IP rights — it should be obvious in the SEC filings if there were any conditions precedent to the acquisition — and force Disney to complete its acquisition.

In the history of finance, deals that were even closer to completion have been called-off so one can’t ignore the possibility.

Moreover, if you’re Disney, you might simply weigh the cost of the settlement with Kirby’s heirs against the cost of any breakage fees they have to pay to Marvel (if any) for walking away and decide that you’re better off pursuing something else.

Likewise, if you’re Disney, unless you’re somehow obliged by the terms of the Marvel contract, you may not even want to participate in this (potentially too costly) and let Marvel go at it as a separate entity first then come back when the dust has settled and Marvel still owns the characters. After all, Sony or any of the other studious didn’t exactly come in and make counter-offers to the shareholders so it stands to reason that Marvel will still be available at that point.

You also have to think about the timing of the suit — it does seem like the Kirbys were waiting for this kind of opportunity so Disney may want to walk away for now and let Marvel make the pay-off on its own considering that, as a SEPARATE legal entity, Marvel does not have the kind of financial muscle that it has. With Disney out of the picture, Marvel can then make a considerably lower offer to Kirby’s heirs than one that it might have been expected to make if they’d been bought by Disney.

Afterwards, Disney can slink back to the table and possibly make a lower offer that USD4Bn if Marvel’s shares get affected by the legal fallout.

Of course, if another entity gets interested and makes a bid for Marvel, this could backfire on Disney and trigger a bidding war of sorts.

I do think it’s a tad unfortunate that the Kirby family is seeking their share of his legacy, but that squares with my view that you really shouldn’t be able to pass along your fortune to your children, beyond their basic survival. It’s unfitting for the supposed “free market” system we allegedly have in this country. And the point about future creators deepening the properties is well made. The Fantastic Four are one of the few properties truly developed almost to completion by Kirby himself. I’m rambling, but I hope my point comes across relatively clearly.

agent_torpor
September 20, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Are you kiddng? This may be one of the most ill-informed posts i’ve seen on CBR.
—————————————————————————————————————————–
What was ill informed? The fact that the characters should be in the public domain?

They should be. If the government hadn’t bent over backwards for Disney in 1976, the Public Commons would be much better for it.

The fact that without the marketing muscle of Marvel and DC, none of these characters would be around today?

It’s true. Marvel and DC continually published comics with those characters in them for decades, marketing the characters and keeping them in the public eye. Can the same be said for “Fighting American”? How about Archie Comics’ The Fly character?

There are a lot of “creators rights” fanboys on here who go all foamy in the mouth when they perceive a slight against creators, but they don’t seem to care about things like “logic” and “common sense” and instead use inflammatory lines like “These creators had guns to their heads when they made these deals and they should not stand!”.

That’s business friends, moreover they are the very principles that North America was founded on. If you feel that passionate about it then I expect that you’ll be headed on a boat back to whatever European colony your fore-fathers came from.

Not that I imagine I’ll get a reasoned response from you, it will be more like “you have no idea what you’re talking about”, yet you will do nothing to back up your claims.

From the surface, it seems clear-cut that Kirby’s creations were work for hire. However, if you read various biographies on Kirby, pay attention to the sections that cover his struggle to get his original artwork back in the 1970s and 1980s. Marvel refused to give Kirby his artwork back unless he signed a sizable release form saying he wouldn’t seek ownership of the characters (even though Kirby wasn’t seeking that; he just wanted his art). This went on for years. Odd, isn’t it? There’s certainly something there that Marvel was afraid of if the company fought for years for Kirby to drop his creation rights for the Marvel pantheon.

Disney will NOT walk away from Marvel. I just don’t see that happening. Disney likely knew this was going to happen. And if the Kirby’s are doing this for more money. Why didn’t they wait until the sale was complete then hit Big D up for more money? Stupid.

Wow, didn’t see this coming at all. I do wonder what sort of contracts there was back then etc. Also my first reaction is that the heirs are just trying to shake the tree a little and see what happens. I mean, in reality what could it hurt? They probably got this lawyer on a contingency basis as well.

One thing that seems to have not been noticed about the timing: Perhaps the Kirby heirs were waiting to see what precedent would be set by the suit brought by the Siegel family. With the various films and television programs currently in either development or production, the characters that Kirby had a hand in developing would be worth a lot with or without the Disney buy-out.

James Call wrote:
“I do think it’s a tad unfortunate that the Kirby family is seeking their share of his legacy, but that squares with my view that you really shouldn’t be able to pass along your fortune to your children, beyond their basic survival.”

Only wives, eh?

At least daughter Lisa Kirby made an (I’m assuming) honest attempt at cashing in on her dads name by trying to do a comic mini-series based on one of her dads ideas. As honest as anything Majel Roddenberry did anyway.

I’d say a million a year for 10-20 years would be a nice way of post-humously honoring the man and some of the most recognizable work in comic book history. Spoil the kids a little bit. It’s the *grand-kids* I’m worried about.

By the way, I don’t think sucking up to Bill Gates this way is gonna get you a dime of his money! (Joking, I swear!)

Charles Lobsterman

September 20, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Go Kirby family go!

..

It’s a GOOD thing.

Too bad Kirby is not here to see it happen. I’d love to hear Stan “The Con Man’s” deposition about the creation of these characters.

One wuestion that’s never been answered: WHY is Stan Lee’s work NOT work-for-hire and Kirby and Ditko’s IS? Huh, Stanny?

WHY is THAT? Because Uncle Marty liked you and Kirby was just a guy with a JOB?

..

..

What about all the characters that the original creators based their characters on?

I wonder when these family / long lost kin will be similarly filing suit to claim their rightful inheritance based on the popularity of the characters that these now popular characters from these creators created? That sure will be fun!

Will the Kirby family have justice? Or will this eventually lead up to what is happening to Superman where the character could possibly be tangled up in legal battles and become unusable? Only time will tell but I am personally backing the Kirby family. Jack got seriously screwed by Marvel just like Siegel and Shuster.

One wuestion that’s never been answered: WHY is Stan Lee’s work NOT work-for-hire and Kirby and Ditko’s IS?

Lee’s work was work-for-hire. He doesn’t own any of the characters. He does have a much better deal than any of his creators got, as a consequence of being management.

Oh, you poor babies and your fighting against the big, bad corporations. Geez.

I’m sure since all of you were alive back then, were close personal friends of Kirby, and he told you everything there was to know about the process of the characters he created, well by god, you’re EXPERTS!!! The judge better subpoena the lot of you, immediately!

Really…calm down and shut up, and to the doofus that said “fanboys can fuck-off” or whatever it was, just what exactly are YOU then? A Kirby fanboy? Get off your own pedestal and eat crow, jackass. Verbally-masturbating a dead man will only get you so far.

The thing is, raising your fists in the name of creator’s rights in great…in the present. You can blindly shout the name of Big Business in defiance all you want, slander Stan Lee’s name until you’re blue in the face (and really, to you people, kiss MY ass: Stan Lee gave us greatness), but you guys have ZERO IDEA what the real story is, truth be told, and all manner of internet-research won’t help you either. Stop being self-important uber-nerds about this, and pay attention. The Kirby Estate are coming out of the woodwork NOT on behalf of their dearly-departed relative, they’re doing it because they’re greedy, they saw some other Estate be semi-successful with the same lawsuit, and are now trying to totally capitalize on Jack’s good name.

Yeah, THAT is something you should be rooting for, because two wrongs ALWAYS make a right, right? You’re against Marvel (well, you’re against what Marvel was in the 60′s) for being so terribly greedy as to reap the profits off characters THEY HAVE LEGAL RIGHTS TO, but supportive of people that could have cared less about these creations, until they discovered money could maybe be made.

Blind, bleeting sheep, just on the other side of the electric fence. Try peeing on it, I bet you’ll feel better. Being the “moral voice” in a case you obviously don’t understand is one hell of a pointless thing, isn’t it? Or do you just love seeing a greedy minority overcome a greedy majority, even though Marvel (in its current incarnation) did nothing wrong? And, they might not have EVER done anything wrong! Jack might just have been a bitter old man, trash-talking Marvel (he’d often just agree with whomever was interviewing him at the time) because he made some poor life-choices when he was younger? Or maybe not! We don’t know that!

So please…Unclench and go enjoy some damn comic books, before the legal system eradicates them all in the name of “Creator’s Rights”. Because you know, if the Kirby’s were presented with a choice, remove X-Men from Marvel and they get the 100% profits or share the property with Marvel and get, say, ONE-percent, what do you think they’d do? The selfless thing where the fans still get to enjoy their comic but they make less money, or the one where they get ALL the money?

And if you’re only on their side because you hate the mainstream and don’t even read the comics anymore, ALSO kiss my ass. I love it how people with no vested interest in things will gladly see them destroyed, despite there being thousands of other fans, for the sake of a few bucks, or even to see someone ELSE get a few bucks, so long as the big, evil corporations burn to the ground. If you’re on their side only because you’re Anti-Superhero, obviously you should report to the nearest hospital and demand sterilization; we don’t need more of you accidentally bleeding into the populace.

Goodnight.

Timing is everything. The older I get the more I understand and appreciate that.

By filing this lawsuit now the Kirby’s have a good chance of achieving a couple of different outcomes :

# 1. They might win the suit, or at least some settlement

If they don’t pull off # 1 then

# 2. They make enough stink and muddy the water enough that maybe Disney doesn’t acquire them, or at the very least Disney / Marvel wastes a lot of money and the Kirby estate exacts some measure of revenge against Marvel for not justly compensating Jack.

The law is one thing, and justice is another. Sometimes they’re both the same but not always. Jack and his heirs certainly deserve more than what they’ve gotten to this point.

what a bunch of Socialists comic readers are…

how about the Kirby Children earn some money by doing some work themselves.

Oh, wow.

I am so, so tired of people who didn’t create a damn thing wanting money from the great things that their fathers brought the world.

The Siegel and Schuster heirs didn’t help those fine, fine gentleman come up with Superman, and nobody on this lawsuit added a damn thing to the Marvel Universe. Mighty funny that this doesn’t pop up until Disney buys Marvel…

Proof that the Kirby heirs don’t know squat…Jack Kirby did not create Spider-Man. Period. Look it up if you’re curious.

Don’t these people realize that they are only sullying their father’s legacy when they try a cash-grab for things that don’t belong to them?

If the Siegel and Schuster heirs were that concerned about the treatment of Superman, they’d help, not hinder, the process of getting a new Supes movie off the ground, and help spread their father’s work to even more people around the globe.

What’s this going to do for all those movies Marvel is getting into gear? Wouldn’t Kirby want his creations to get the respect they’ve always deserved, the respect that Iron Man rightfully earned last year?

Yes, Kirby was mistreated by Marvel, as were Siegel and Schuster by DC. While we’re here, why don’t we mention Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of Batman, my (obviously) favorite character, also denied his fair share.

But you know what…their kids didn’t earn any money their father’s deserved, any more than my parents, or your parents, deserve to give us money for the things they’ve done. If we’re LUCKY our parents will leave us with an inheritance. None of us should expect it.

Here’s my final note to any money-grubbing, greedy sons and daughters of slighted comic creators –

IT’S NOT YOUR MONEY!!

Get a job at Marvel or DC…consult on the characters. Write them. I’m sure that either company would kill to put “Written by the son/daughter of XXXXXX’s creator!” on the cover of a comic book. Add to your family’s legacy.

Stop trying to profit from it.

Stop trying to make it harder for ACTUAL fans…people who respect what your parents created, and enjoy the stories told about their creations…to read/watch/listen to the latest adventures of these characters.

If I’m an artist and a father, I prefer 10.000 times that the owners of the copyrights of MY creations, will be MY sons and daugthers than an anonymous company that treat me like a slave…

Big Money B.G:

Nobody is taking away your comics. They are still there, on paper, readily available in multiple formats. I am honestly puzzled why you would assume that having the Kirby heirs regain copyright will somehow magically make them disappear.

:)

Hmm, who would Jack Kirby have wanted to profit from the legacy of his amazing outpouring of creativity, his family or the shareholders of some corporation?

It’s a toughie, but I’ll go for, ummm…

his family!

While I respect the ability for Kirby’s family to do so, at the same time the circumstances they chose to bring this up in do look towards making them look rather money grabbing. Given that Kirby creations rack up a very large portion of Marvel’s core roster, and presumably the amount paid by Disney would suggest that there is a bigger slice of pie sitting there than they had previously realised.

However, in this case the existence of Stan Lee should act as a bit of a shock absorber, as half the creators are still alive (and presumably not involved) it would in theory give Marvel more leeway.

I’d also suggest that a lot of the cases here are going to be more fiddly than Superman. As mentioned, Thor is a public domain character anyway, and I’m going to think that the liklihood of there being a legal precedent for individual interpretations of a public domain character on the same scale as Thor is possibly low? X-men is also probably more dubious ground than most, given that of its core roster, more than half of its big names had nothing to do with Kirby at all (everyone after the original five and Xavier from what I can work out – and Wolverine and Storm inparticular are arguably more integral to the X-brand than any of the original ones except Cyclops and possibly Xavier)

On the plus side, with Disney behind them at least Marvel will now be more easily able to shoulder any costs this ends up incurring.

James Call:
I do think it’s a tad unfortunate that the Kirby family is seeking their share of his legacy, but that squares with my view that you really shouldn’t be able to pass along your fortune to your children, beyond their basic survival.

And then where should that fortune go? In the Kirby case the fortune has gone to a corporate entity which some will say been good custodians of the property, but the lion’s share of that fortune has gone to stock-holders, and not the writers, artists, and editors who have served as those custodians.

What if the creator of that fortune retained some legal rights to that fortune while alive– if their children can’t get the fortune, where would you mandate it to go? A corporate entity? Public domain? A charitable trust?

What sort of legal regime are you proposing to enforce your moral dictum, James?

I do agree that Jack Kirby had every right to fight for any creator rights he felt he was owed. I feel equally that Roz had every right to fight for Jack’s rights. However, when you get down to the children, grand-children, nephews, nieces, fifth cousins, and the like, it just smacks of money hunting. I truly mean no offense, but, if I was sitting on a jury hearing this, that is the first thing that would pop into my mind. I mean, if we are saying that a man’s family has every right to demand some legal retribution for an ancestor’s success, are we willing to task those same ancestor’s families for their ancestor’s failures? Should Marvel be able to turn around and say to the Kirby estate, “We paid X amount to market and publish this book ‘created’ by Jack in 196x, it failed. You owe us X amount as your part of the total amount.”

“I mean, if we are saying that a man’s family has every right to demand some legal retribution for an ancestor’s success, are we willing to task those same ancestor’s families for their ancestor’s failures?”

Legally, that’s not an issue. When Congress extended copyright, lawmakers acknowledged the unfairness to creators who may have transferred rights to works for a specified period. So creators, their heirs and their estates, at different times, may file to terminate that transfer.

There’s no clause that allows a publisher to argue, “Hey, I didn’t make as much from this property as I’d hoped.” If a work was a financial failure, the publisher likely wouldn’t put up much of a fight to retain the rights, anyway.

I think at some point there has to be cut a off. And the only way this issue can be resolved is for this to wind up at the Supreme Court. Otherwise every few years these hiers will run to the courts and cry and bitch and moan until the respective companies cough up some more dough.

This is a shake down of Marvel pure and simple. Where were the Kirby’s when not so long ago Marvel was in serious danger of folding/going out of business?

This is a shake down of Marvel pure and simple. Where were the Kirby’s when not so long ago Marvel was in serious danger of folding/going out of business?”

The window for serving notification of copyright termination wasn’t open then.

LEts get a few things straight.

1. This country was NOT founded on the belief of being a free market society as some dipshit said earlier.

It was founded on the belief that a better way could happen WITHOUT a Monarchy or a Pope calling the shots.
The founding Fathers were almost entirely made up of Masons. Not Christians like the puritans who came here and died out from disease.

2. Jack Kirby created the visual look to Spider-Man just as he created the visual look to all of the early Marvel characters. (Written about in the Jack Kirby collector from Two Morrows Publishing)

Stan Lee did not like the way Kirby made Spidey look all blocky and huge. That is why He put Ditko on the book. It was Ditko and NOT Lee who gave Spidey his personality quirks. Most of them were a reflection of his own rigid personality.
Everything I just wrote has been documented by multiple sources such as Wizard and Two Morrows publishing.
Ditko left the book at its peak of popularity because Stan would not credit him as co-plotter.
Yes Ditko drew the first pass for amazing Fantasy 15 but was unavailible to do the redraw in such short notice so Stan called Jack and had him knock out the final cover over the weekend.

3. Jack is responsible for the creation and the visual look of almost every character created by Marvel before 1964.
Most of these characters were just concepts he would come up with while working on something else. That is how characters like Galactus and the Silver surfer came about.

4. Creators rights never made it into any of the Comic publishers Contracts until around 1990 time frame. In fact it may have been as late as 1994.

Read the book -The adventures of Cavalier and Clay to get an Idea of exactly what the industry was like at the time these characters were created.

You cannot go after any copyright reembursment until such time as the copyrights expire. You may however set up legal precedent a couple of years early in order to keep the current holder from renewing them before your case is heard.

5.Regarding THOR; Thor is a public domain figure insofar as he is based upon a myth. meaning that anyone can use the name and attributes associated with the MYTHICAL character of Thor.
But the version that Marvel is using is a sole creation of Jack Kirby. Both in looks and presentation. What that means kids is that THAT version of Thor and Asgard and its pantheon are a TM and Copyrighted character creation of Marvel Entertainment.
So basically don’t base your version of Thor on Kirby’s version and you are alright.

And also to the guy that does not think that the heirs of someone should be entitled to their estate or compensation given for creations made by the estate that they are a part of. Just shut the hell up. Your an idiot. You do not even offer any explanation behind your reasoning, you just spout out some ignorant drivel based on your own narrow beliefs withoutshowing proper reasoning.

Bottom line IMO is that the major publishers have had this coming for decades and if this is the moment that people have finally started to stand up and do something about it, then this is the time.

I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand the creators in the past were treated unfairly by the publishers. They should have had pensions, healthcare, etc that other businesses had. Second they should have had royalties. As far as heirs having rights. Sorry. Not feeling it. My father has several patents that he signed over to the company he worked for for 30 years. In return he received a nice salary, pension, etc. Do I have a right to sue that company to receive profits they made from my father’s inventions? No. That company took all the risks & lost money on failed machinery that may have been developed.

All I see in the article is greed. The losers in all this will be the fans. Comics already cost too much. Add in the monies paid out to heirs (& Superman & Kirby are the tip of the iceberg) & it will push comics out of business. Especially once Hollywood stops making money off of superhero movies which I suspect is where DC & Marvel make alot of their profits….

“And trying to get Thor’s copyright is a bit preposterous. The guy is a public domain figure!”

I suspect that’s similar to the Disney situation (no, the OTHER Disney situation). The Little Mermaid, Snow White, ect are all public domain but if you use the versions from the cartoon you’ll have Mouse-eared lawyers raining down on you. I’m not even that familiar with Norse Mythology (I was always more into the Greek stuff) and I can tell you that Jack Kirby’s Thor is quite a bit different from the original so I could easily see that argument that he’s his own distinct character.

I really wish everyone and his mother would stop trying to take credit for Spider-Man away from Stan and Steve, though. At best Jack created some character designs that weren’t what Stan was looking for so Stan moved on to another artist with a completely different take. That is NOT creating the character.

To Mike Wedmer – What you said may be 100% correct but calling people idiots & profanities make you lose all credibilty IMO. Believe me I learned this personally on other boards a few years ago…

To those of you crying for the companies: KISS MY ASS. The companies took some small risk in putting out new concepts years ago, true. But they’ve been richly rewarded for doing so. Now it’s the turn of the creators and their heirs to get something more from what was created for a paycheck back then.

Michael, I understand that your father likely was treated well by the company he worked for in signing over his patents. But as far as I know, Kirby never received any pension or health care plan.

And I said the creators should have the same benefits my father did. That is why I have mixed feelings over this mess. I still don’t think the heirs should have the same rights as the creator since they did not do any of the work…

All that everyone here needs to understand is this: Without Marvel there, Jack Kirby would be nobody. Marvel is a business entity not a human being, and Marvel doesn’t publish works out of the goodness of their hearts, nor should they be expected to! As an artist, I expect my “publishing” company to own rights to my creations if they so choose to put their money on the line to get MY creation out there. It doesn’t matter how many boat loads of money they may have, that’s the point of business.

These people are cash hungry cows that will tear down years of history and rip an entire media from us all in the name of a father’s “legacy” which is total bullshit, because all Americans seem to be about is money money money. Whether a pickle fell on your chin or your crotch was burned by hot coffee (because obviously it was the clerk at McDonald’s that placed that cup O hot joe in the general vicinity of your genitals and not YOU). Kirby was an incredible talent, to which I thank him AND Marvel for bringing the characters to life and let me enjoy them for a price. I’m a fan-boy, I’m an artist and I truly believe in Justice…. But this isn’t justice ladies and gents, it’s pure American GREED! Don’t fool yourselves into thinking otherwise.

Mike Wedemer, the Spidey story I heard varied from what you said. In “Strange and Stranger” the Ditko bio it says that Kirby’s Spider-man looked very little like the version we know of now. For example, Kirby’s version allegedly had a webgun instead of the webshooters .

I agree Kavalier and Clay is an incredible book that is sadly based on reality more than we think.

As for the issue at hand, I am just taking a wait and see attitude to see what the courts decide, as my opinions of this situation are ill informed at best as I don’t know all the facts or the motivations of the parties involved.

To clarify for everyone who would shun me for saying “These people are cash hungry cows that will tear down years of history and rip an entire media from us all in the name of a father’s “legacy” which is total bullshit, because all Americans seem to be about is money money money.” Do not misunderstand, I don’t think this is what the Kirby family has in mind per-se but I do believe they’d take a big cash payoff from the company,at ours, the characters and yes, even their fathers name AND Legacy’s expense.

Isn’t it just sad – a crime, even – that they have to do this at all? (risk all taking high profile legal action to even get a slice of the big fat pie)

There wouldn’t be an American comics industry at all today without the work of Jack Kirby (foremost creator among so many, many others). His family are due every cent they can get, and more.

The working practices of the so-called “mainstream” comics industry vis a vis creator’s rights have always been – and what’s worse still are – from the Stone Age. They contravene basic decent humanity.

This has stifled true innovation now for decades. I love comics but I’m so BORED of the same characters, hidebound in continuity. Screw the icons if you must, but for heaven’s sake where’s the investment in and commitment to some new ones?

You can only rape a corpse for so long before it comes apart in your hands. (sorry if anyone’s just eaten!) MARVEL ZOMBIES indeed!

I don’t know if I can legally list all of our creators great and small daily stiffed by the Big Two. We all know who they are, don’t we? This will be a landmark case for a lot of people so be sure the company lawyers will tie it all up for years to come…

In short, KIRBY, KIRBY rah rah rah! Shame on the industry.

Let’s go at it again, guys. Try and understand what I mean:

1) It IS possible to have a prosperous, thriving comics industry with mostly (or ONLY) creator-owned characters. It has been done in France and Japan, both WAY bigger comic markets than the US. No gloom and doom prophecies, thank you very much.

2) While the Siegel estate DOES have a case, Kirby’s doesn’t have one. Most of his work at Marvel was not a “copyright transference”, it was work done under the aegis of Marvel in partnership with the company’s friggin’ editor-in-chief! By american law, this lawsuit has no chance. Marv Wolfman and Steve Gerber have tried similar lawsuits before and lost.

3) Yeah, Thor’s Kirby-created visuals (and non-mythological supporting cast, like the Warriors Three) COULD be argued to belong to Marvel, but again the lawsuit wouldn’t affect the company much. It would need just change the character to a different design (like, say, the bearded, armored Walt Simonson version) and discard the non-mythological characters (no big deal).The Kirby estate would benefit little from that particular character.

4) Kirby has little to do with Iron Man (he just created the first armor, which was used for a VERY short time) and pretty much NOTHING to do with Spider-Man and most current X-Men (Wolverine in particular), which are the Big Deals for Marvel movies. I fail to see what his kids expect from this lawsuit except to blow a lot of money for a pretty much lost cause.

5) Even if they win (I doubt it), Stan Lee should get half the rights dammit!

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

@Michael; You are correct sir that calling people Idiots or some other derogitory name is apt to losing credability.
But I only called one person an Idiot. That person is the one who stated that people should not be allowed to inherit the estate of their ancestors.
I stand by what I said about him because that statement especially considering he gave no followup to his reasoning was just completely ignorant.

Kirby Did create the original look of the character. Yes the first concepts had a web gun which Ditko changed when he was put on the book. But Kirby’s design was maintained and built upon by Ditko.

What Lee did was create the personalities for the characters.
Remember, the Marvel method of scripting which still is used to this day required the writers to give a basic plot(about one paragraph) to the artist who would then conceive of how the pacing and story played out including the characters who appeared in it.
Ditko created the true personality of Spidey because he was a reflection of himself. His falling out with Stan is legendary.

Back in the late 30′s and early 40′s, the Artists had no concept of how big these characters would be or how much money was being made off of them. They were not only not privy to that info, but most all of the creators back then were actually embarrassed about working in comics and did not publicly admit to working in the field. Most were under the impression that it was a bottom rung industry.
That is why you never saw big money contracts coming out of it. Otherwise the industry would have changed decades ago.

That is how so many of these great creators got taken advantage of for so long.

Yes, how DARE these people make a claim on money that is rightfully theirs to claim by law?

To Mike Wedmer. Thank you. Since I got reprimanded a few years ago I am sensitive to “name calling”. Plus the recent “outbursts” by celebrities (Kanye, Serena, etc) has me more annoyed by it. However I totally respect your passion for this great hobby. I have read Cavalier & Klay by Chabon & thought it was a great book. I know the industry treated the creators poorly until people like Neal Adams spoke up in the 70′s. I think the industry is probably a better place for creators today because of Neal & others.

I think by the number of responses to this topic (both for & against) – the fans show their intense passion for comic books. Which I think is a good thing. Will this issue ever be settled? I doubt it. Hopefully their will be a way for publishers & creators to work it out that benefits both parties without ugly court battles.

@Wilbur Lunch

That’s the thing… It isn’t really theirs to claim. If Kirby himself were to fight it, then I suppose that would be more just. This is nothing to do with what’s “theirs” and everything to do with what THEY WANT! They want a piece of Disney’s ass! Sorry, it’s way too convenient of a situation to even assume anything else. It’s blatantly obvious what they’re looking for.

BtW – I had a great opportunity to take a class (non-credit) on the history of comic books a few years ago. It was led by a former teacher – now comic store owner – who had some guest creators come in during the course. I was the old fart who had been reading for decades (40 yrs now!) so I had a bit more knowledge about comic book trivia than the others….

The thing is, where does this stop? Where are the lines drawn for people who wish to go back in time and re-write history, in that bad contracts that were-or-were-not signed can be overturned or re-written?

Why should Marvel, in its current incarnation, pay for the mistakes that may or may not have been committed by the company’s forefathers? Why are people being allowed to become rich when they didn’t earn a single penny?

If Jack Kirby cared so much about his creations when he was alive, this type of thing would have happened…when he was alive. again, the fact that his family has popped-up out of nowhere to pillage Jack’s legacy is sickening; it would have been different, totally, if they’d done this on their own without there being a pre-existing lawsuit of the same type started by Superman’s creators’ family.

This has NOTHING to do with integrity, that of Jack Kirby or the characters he created. His family just wants money, money they didn’t earn, money that Marvel has every single right to keep!

AGAIN…being mindless sheep doesn’t do anyone any favors, people. Times were different when Kirby first started, the law was different. So because we’ve gotten some better law-makers in the last 50 years, we can now go back and apply them to every single applicable case? How does that make sense? Marvel committed NO wrong, here. If they screwed-over Jack in any way back then, all we ever really heard of it is the recollection of a bitter old man, who again, by the time he was questioned about such things he couldn’t keep his stories straight. If an interviewer asked him if he’d been cheated on Spider-Man, he’d go along with it. If an interviewer suggested the creation was mutual, he’d go along with it.

For those of you that honestly think this is just some great push for justice to be served, you must remove your heads from your collective asses. This is a money-grabbing scheme perpetuated by the family of a man who, while they paid his bills and made him a star within the industry, burned his bridge with Marvel because he felt he had become bigger than the company that made him, plain and simple. Jack didn’t get his way, trying to be the Independent Voice within a corporation that was only trying to protect themselves, and he took his ball to DC. He created a bunch of characters FOR Marvel, not for himself.

And honestly, we really have no idea what happened back then…All we have are the stories of men whose memories are probably hazy-at-best, stories that could easily be twisted to the teller’s favor, motivated by who knows whatever crazy feuds popped-up back then; how do we know that every negative thing said about Stan Lee isn’t some pack of jealousy and slander, because Stan was smart and resourceful enough to get farther and become as big a name as some of his creations?

Yes, I’m playing devil’s advocate quite a bit, but there’s a point: You don’t know what happened, I don’t know what happened. You could totally be cheering for the wrong side, by just blindly looking at it as “Kirby Family versus Marvel” rather than REALLY looking at it.

These people don’t care about you, about Marvel, or about Jack’s legacy. They don’t. All they want is money, and I’m sure if Marvel chooses to settle and throw some cash their way, they’ll shut-up about it and go back into their caves. This is like the family of whoever created the Big Mac suing McDonald’s because the Big Mac became such a huge hit.

It’s foolish, it’s senseless, and it’s all about greed. So yeah, you guys want to keep cheering-on the pitiful group of humanity that wants to get rich with minimal effort? Go for it. I bet you’d root for bank robbers and con-artists too, eh? So long as “The Man” gets what’s coming to them! Yeah!

It’s pretty easy to say where it stops. It stops where exixting copyright law says it stops.

So, the Kirby heirs are bank robbers, then. From now on, I’ll just ignore you, you obnoxious twit.

A couple things:

“Work-for-hire” didn’t exist as a legal concept before the 1976 copyright law so whatever Jack created or co-created it wasn’t done under work for hire though it may have been done under general belief that the publisher would be the owner of the creations. Though that wasn’t a legal concept either, just a tradition in the comics business – established by the publishers. Whether tradition has legal standing in any case is up to precedent and judges.

If Jack signed any contract, it was likely nothing more than the back-of-the-check stamp, which is illegal (it amounts to extortion since contracts must exist between two consenting parties BEFORE work is done, and forcing something to agree to terms in order to be paid for work already done is extortion) and Jack signing his checks doesn’t make it more legal. It seems to me even the back of the check contract wasn’t instituted at Marvel until after Jack’s 60s stint there, but I’d have to research that. The most contract Jack is likely to have had is verbal, and at least according to some versions Jack was made promises by Martin Goodman of sharing in the wealth. So it could get dodgy.

Where will it all end? Hopefully when talent receives equal shares of the riches spawned by their creations. Why should the beneficiaries all be people and corporations that didn’t have the wit or imagination to create anything of their own?

“Big Money”: Termination of copyright transfer has nothing to do with mistakes or wrongdoing, perceived or real, by the company. It has to do with Congress attempting to balance the scales after it extended the life of copyright — something that has greatly benefited companies like Disney and Warner Bros. (who, not-so-coincidentally, were among the parties pushing for the extensions).

In some cases, creators assigned copyright to, say, a publisher for a set period (before 1978, it was 28 years with an option to renew for an additional 28). But Congress twice extended the copyright duration, from 56 years to 75 years to 95 years. So lawmakers included a clause that would allow the creators, their heirs or their estates to recover the copyright beginning from that 56-year mark.

If Congress is going to extend copyright to protect corporate interests (Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, etc.), doesn’t it seem fair to give the creators of a work (or their heirs) a chance to reclaim that work under the terms of the law as it existed at the time of the transfer?

That said, it’s certainly unclear whether the Kirby heirs will be able to make their case. The terms under which Jack Kirby co-created Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, et al, will likely only come to light through lengthy deposition and courtroom testimony — if then. (Stan Lee has a notoriously bad, and changing, memory, and I’m not sure how many other people who were privy to conversations, agreements and the creative process are still living.)

What’s funny is that the law the Kirby estate is using to do this was part of a copyright reform act that was undertaken at the behest of Disney (among others) to increase the length of copyrights. So as far as I am concerned, this is Disney’s just deserts.

So, there’s no such thing as *corporate* greed, only greedy individuals?

Kirby’s family have a greater ethical claim on his creations than DisneyMarvelCorp do.

Big Money BG is right on the money.

it seems America has become the land of the Oportunistic, rather than Oppurtunity.

How sad

@for Real

“All that everyone here needs to understand is this: Without Marvel there, Jack Kirby would be nobody.”
And without Jack Marvel wouldn’t have existed, what is your point?
“As an artist, I expect my “publishing” company to own rights to my creations if they so choose to put their money on the line to get MY creation out there. It doesn’t matter how many boat loads of money they may have, that’s the point of business.”
Man, the big two would LOVE you.
Like it or not, there was fundamental shift in the 70′s and 80′s, and some creators got wise to the fact that the creations should belong to them, and not the publishing house. They saw the way that Jack and others slaved, drawing 15 pages a week and getting nothing for it in the long run. He couldn’t even go into a toy store later in life, because the fact that he didn’t get a dime from all of the pretty toys based on HIS design, made him ill. Sorry, I have no tears for poor, poor Marvel. If they had done right by the man when he was alive, maybe the chickens wouldn’t be coming home to roost. Stan got his, but I’m sure Uncle Marty made sure of that. Maybe a co-creator credit would be nice on the masthead? Or “Lee and Kirby Presents”? What do you say, Stan? Would that be fair?
The publishing house should have the rights of the published story, but the characters should belong to the creators. Said creators should be able to take their, not the company’s, because a company knows nothing of creativity, to any publishing house they want to publish the stories.
And really, that is the way it should work, in my opinion.

Big Money BG is right on the money.

it seems America has become the land of the Oportunistic, rather than Oppurtunity.

How sad

Actually, as it has been stated in this thread several times, Jack always wanted his heirs to profit from his legacy. A lot of people don’t realize this, or, more to the point of the entitled fan, don’t care.

@ Nod

The saddest part is everyone blaming corporate and being so closed minded about why everything is where it’s at today. Without Marvel or DC we wouldn’t have Image, Dark Horse, Dream Works etc. Everything they HATE about the big 2 or corporate giants in general are the only reasons the industry is what it is, and the ONLY reason we even get to enjoy independant publishers. The bottom line here is simple: If Marvel/DC didn’t look out for their own interests, we’d surely have nothing now. No comic books to read, art to look at, nothing to bitch about in essence. It’s ironic. I wonder how happy everyone would be if we went back in time and did what they are saying, and everyone retains their memories of what was, to what now will be because of the changes they wish to take place. It would be a very different world in comics, if there were comics left at all.

I say we should all of us be grateful for what we still have here. The industry was a dying breed at one point, and with people like Kirby and Siegal heirs, it just may become extinct yet.

For the record, I’m not really even for the man. I get how everyone feels about this subject, especially being an artist myself. The fact of the matter is, we need these big companies not only for jobs, but for getting our work out there. Our ideas…. Self Publishing is so expensive to begin with, why don’t you gripe about those costs? Gripe about all the others who make supplies and printing so expensive that it negates artists ability to get their work out. Of course that’s not right either, cuz everyone needs to make money, the root of all evil. And basically “it is what it is”

@for Real
“I say we should all of us be grateful for what we still have here. The industry was a dying breed at one point, and with people like Kirby and Siegal heirs, it just may become extinct yet.”

Yeah, Kirby’s heirs are going to drive the nails in the coffin.
Come on. Hyperbole much?

@RaulTheCat

“And without Jack Marvel wouldn’t have existed, what is your point?”

My point exactly, actually. They wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for each other. So what truly is the fair price to pay?
I suppose all the people who bust their asses working for minimum wage in ANY field will be able to sue for rights or retro pay or for a pickle on the chin or hot coffee crotch? Because they feel they are “owed”. It’s all bs that will lead to more bogus lawsuits and bring America down even further. It’s no surprise really why the rest of the world looks down on us. We make fools of ourselves! This is one more step in the wrong direction. Anyone who takes advantage of the system gives the next person the right to do the same things and the lines of justice are blurred yet again! It has to stop somewhere. Laws passed to help creators in the past are the way to go, suing companies for artwork and things someone other than YOU yourself created is ridiculous. At least have the guts to say “it’s the money I care about, I don’t give a damn about my father’s legacy or creations” Because his legacy and creations are doing just fine under the “the man”. So all they are interested in is the money, because nearly every character he created is flourishing at Marvel. So obviously his Legacy will live on without the families interferance, so i’m interested to see if it lasts now that they’re screwing with it.

@RaulTheCat

“Yeah, Kirby’s heirs are going to drive the nails in the coffin.
Come on. Hyperbole much?”

It only takes 1 person man… just 1. And if you think that it’s not a possibility, then there’s 2 people, and 4 and 8 and 16…. It’ll pyramid right out of control! This is already the 3rd creator owned lawsuit in the last 5 years. Supes, Cap and now the Kirby’s strike! All downhill from here, unless people smarten up!

I think some people here are just jealous that their father didn’t leave them any sort of legacy.

I also think the definition here of greed is interesting. Marvel pays the Kirby estate nothing. Low level executives who had nothing to do with creating any of these characters take home paychecks in the millions. Stan Lee takes home millions. Kirby gets nothing and his family is called greedy for wanting anything.

DC pays the Kirby estate for the use of New Gods characters. They’ve paid more royalties just on Mr. Miracle than Marvel ever paid Kirby on Fantastic Four, Hulk, X-Men, Thor, Avenger, Sgt. Fury, Captain America, Silver Surfer and all the other ones combined. If DC can pay the Kirby estate, Marvel can pay the Kirby estate.

It is good to see Steven Grant here who actually works in the industry. He reminds us that Kirby was not an employee when he cocreated these characters and it was probably not work for hire.

Those of you who are sure it was work for hire can prove this easily. Please quote the lines in Kirby’s contract that covers this.

That’s all that matters. What you understand has no legal weight. Courts deal with what is in the law and what is in a contract.

So if you are certain it was work for hire, please quote the lines in Kirby’s contract that proves this.

Matthew Stockfarleysolomonburger

September 21, 2009 at 10:50 am

Find this hilarious since Marvel deserves. I was ticked off about the Superman lawsuit but this is taking to another extreme. If they indeed lose the rights what would that leave them with, Daredevil and Punisher?

But the major kick to all this is the approval of the Disney purchase by the federal government. If it doesn’t by the end of this year, then the Kirby family probably won’t get the payday that they originally desired. Also it would be hard for Marvel to defent the lawsuit on its own withoutt Disney’s legal team who are experts in rights litigation after years of dealing with this stuff.

@DarkKnt1047: “I am so, so tired of people who didn’t create a damn thing wanting money from the great things that their fathers brought the world.”

Yeah, it should clearly go to people who actually had some stake in creating it, like, uh, Disney.

Wait, what?

Listen, I get the basic premise here: Jack Kirby’s heirs didn’t create these characters, Jack Kirby did. Actually, I’m totally fine with that line of reasoning and I sympathize with it; where I begin to disagree is that I think that means those characters should be public domain now.

The only reason we’re having this conversation at all is because US copyright terms are absurd (I believe copyright expiration date is now determined by taking the current year, subtracting the release date of Steamboat Willie, and adding 20 years). The reason that we’re talking about Kirby’s heirs getting the rights to these characters instead of Kirby himself is that US copyright law doesn’t allow a creator to seek copyright termination for FIFTY-SIX YEARS. By which point, of course, the creator is probably dead, and it’s the heirs who have to worry about copyright termination at that point.

If US copyright law were just, Kirby would have been entitled to seek copyright termination during his lifetime, and these copyrights would have run their course by now and the characters would belong to everybody.

That said? The law, as it exists now, gives creators’ heirs the right to seek copyright termination after 56 years. The Kirby Estate is merely exercising its legal rights. You don’t like it? Hey, that’s fair. But don’t suggest that Disney has earned ownership to the Fantastic Four simply by waving a few truckloads of money around but the Kirby heirs don’t deserve anything because they didn’t put in the effort of creating the characters; that’s just logically inconsistent.

But hey, I’m sure you know all about people earning money for other people’s work; you have, after all, named yourself after a character who still gets Bob Kane’s name plastered all over him.

I don’t see the courts totally snatching the rights away from Marvel. More than likely some type of royality sharing agreement will be created. If they prevail in court which is kind of dicey at best.

Exactly. This will not lead to Marvel not being able to publish X-Men. The lawyers are not even seeking to take the characters away from Marvel. They just want to reclaim Kirby’s share. Marvel would still have Stan Lee’s share. Then they will sell Kirby’s share back to Marvel in exchange for the kind of money that Marvel should have been paying Jack and later his estate all along.

This is about whether or not the Kirby estate will receive a tiny fraction of the 4 billion dollars that Marvel is being sold for or whether every cent of it will go to people who had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH CREATING THESE CHARACTERS.

Even Stan Lee isn’t in for piece of the 4 billion, though he should be. Those attacking the Kirby family are defending the bank accounts of people who bought Marvel.

I agree that this stuff should all be public domain by now but that isn’t in the cards. Someone is making billions off it. Why is it so horrible for Jack’s kids to make a microscopic fraction?

I think that the Kirby heirs are going to loose this case just like Marv Wolfman lost his case against Marvel over the rights of Blade and other characters he created. Blade was created in 1973 (3 years before the “work for hire” law came into existence), and that didn’t stop Marvel from winning their case against Wolfman. Anyone with an ounce of common sense know that the character’s Kirby created/co-created for Marvel was done under the full knowledge that Marvel own all rights to those characters. After all, if Kirby never intended for Marvel to own those characters he could have created those characters at a different company that would have allowed him to retain ownership of the characters like he and Joe Simon did with the Fighting American character.

I don’t think any of us were there when these characters were developed, so speculating on who did what and why is somewhat of a waste of time. We’ve all heard stories of who contributed what to whatever, but unless there is either documentation or witnesses to the alleged claim, leave to a judge and the lawyers to figure it out. Since I’m not going to get a dime one way or the other regading this issues, I don’t see the point of wasting a lot (or any) brain cells arguing or speculating on it.

In general I’m for the little guy. If Marvel or larege publishers have been screwing the little guy with forced work for hire contracts or whatever, if the little guy can get back something for the abuse, more power to them. From my study of history a lot of people were taken advantage of because there weren’t that many options for them to make a living at what they wanted to do. Could have gone on to do something else, but that’s an argument for a another day.

I wish the Kirby’s well. During the Marvel bankruptcy the lawyers forced Kirby to sign away some of his rights because they refused to return his artwork, and that was some of the items he was going to use for funds to support his children and grandchildren’s education. Signing a contract under duress, which Marvel knew of his circumstances, is morally bankrupt.

DC is no saint in this matter either. What Siegel and Shuster had to go through to get something for Superman was disgraceful. At least the Kirby’s, to the best of my knowledge, are not living in a trailer park going blind and wondering if they can pay their trailpark fees like the Superman creators. They were lucky someone like Neal Adams made a big stink about it for them.

I’m a comic pro since before most of you were born, I knew Jack & know Stan as well as John Romita, Gene Colan etc…. I’ll tell you this for fact Kirby & the other artists were responsible for much more than many of you think. The heroes you’ve come to know & love LOOK the way they do BECAUSE of them NOT Stan! The old bullpen was a whose who of artists. Stan would give em a loose script to go by & tell them to create the characters/story boards … He then would add his duologue to the piece. He never ever said I want Cap to have a star or a shield etc… Stan was a smart business man. by retaining the rights. However the “creation” & credit really is just as much if not more belonging to the artists. It wasn’t till Neal Adams stepped in many years later & stood up for the rights of us artists….

Bud

Wow, tons of interesting comments here. Mine are as follows.
Kirby’s heirs SHOULD get some money from Marvel, and if it takes a lawsuit claiming ownership to leverage that money out of Marvel, then so be it. Kirby truly did contribute as much to the creation of Marvel as Stan Lee, so if Stan is entitled to a million dollars a year for his contributions, then Kirby (or in this case, his heirs), is entitled to just as much. Let’s face it, no one else in comics history ever got screwed over as badly as Kirby did–not only financially but also in the indignity and betrayal of having the importance and extent of his contributions knowingly and willfully minimized by a blatant, self-serving liar like Stan Lee, who wouldn’t have done anything or been anything without Kirby. And since Marvel the Company and Stan the Man were complicit in their betrayal of the King…SCREW THEM! Kirby’s Estate should take them for every penny they can get, as payback for decades of indignities.

“All that everyone here needs to understand is this: Without Marvel there, Jack Kirby would be nobody.”

So I guess all those Golden Age DC comics like Boy Commandos (which was acually one of the best-selling comics of the era) meant jack shit? There were also tons of other companies Kirby worked for that established his rep decades before Silver Age Marvel.

What strikes me is that if this were any other industry (music, film, etc.) you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone siding with the corportation rather than the creator’s heirs.

Also: know why Kirby was so prolific? Because he had four kids to feed. Of course they deserve the money, both from a legal and moral standpoint.

I’m a comic pro since before most of you were born, I knew Jack & know Stan as well as John Romita, Gene Colan etc…. I’ll tell you this for fact Kirby & the other artists were responsible for much more than many of you think. The heroes you’ve come to know & love LOOK the way they do BECAUSE of them NOT Stan! The old bullpen was a whose who of artists. Stan would give em a loose script to go by & tell them to create the characters/story boards … He then would add his duologue to the piece. He never ever said I want Cap to have a star or a shield etc… Stan was a smart business man. by retaining the rights. However the “creation” & credit really is just as much if not more belonging to the artists. It wasn’t till Neal Adams stepped in many years later & stood up for the rights of us artists….

Bud

____________________________

That is definitely, without question, the truth. However, does that mean that Kirby and the other creators who created/co-created the Marvel characters (a) did not create these characters as a work for hire (b) did not create/co-create these characters without full knowledge that Marvel would own all rights to these characters (c) that by the standard of those days, the deal those artists signed off on and worked under was somehow unfair and (d) that Kirby’s heirs deserve (not to mention, have an ounce of legal right) to reclaim partial ownership of those characters that Kirby created/co-created?

It’s all so fine to paint Marvel and Stan Lee villains, but I seem to recalled a an article an article (maybe it’s by Steven Grant, can anybody help dig it up?) when Kirby ran his own company, he also adopted the business practice of the day; no ownership for the talents.

That is definitely, without question, the truth. However, does that mean that Kirby and the other creators who created/co-created the Marvel characters (a) did not create these characters as a work for hire (b) did not create/co-create these characters without full knowledge that Marvel would own all rights to these characters (c) that by the standard of those days, the deal those artists signed off on and worked under was somehow unfair and (d) that Kirby’s heirs deserve (not to mention, have an ounce of legal right) to reclaim partial ownership of those characters that Kirby created/co-created?

This is why you have lawyers and judges to determine this stuff. Not ‘fans’ of one side or the other.

Right on, it’s why the King fought so hard to get his original artwork back, because he wanted to leave something for his kids. He worked hard for his family, he never stopped creating, and he changed the way super hero comic artists put pencil to page.
Sorry, but I have no tears for Marvel. I hope they finally do right by his memory and legacy.

@Nod
“what a bunch of Socialists comic readers are…how about the Kirby Children earn some money by doing some work themselves.”
——————————————————————————————————————————————————————
Hey Nod it’s called capitalism. You know where property (intellectual or otherwise) is privately owned. You may not agree with it but it ain’t socialism.

I don’t understand the logic behind “…how about the Kirby Children earn some money by doing some work themselves.” Millions of people have left wealth and assest to their heirs who didn’t “earn some of the money by doing the work themselves”. Examples are Rockerfellas, Kennedy’s, Bushes (very few worked the oil patches and other grunt work for their fortunes), major athletes, and host of other people. If it’s yours (so to speak), it can be left to whomever they want.

There is also a little thing called the law. If someone passes on without a will, their assests are distributed to their remaining family members based upon the laws of the state the deceased was a resident of when they passed. If it is determined, by a court of law, that Kirby was entitled to some percentage of ownership for the Marvel characters he worked on, then his children have a right to the value associated with asset.

The screwing of people like Kirby, 3 Stooges, and other artist from the pioneer years of mass media infancy (movies, book publishing, etc.), are the reasons most of the current laws exists.

I’m not even going to wade into what I think in terms of the specifics, as many have already voiced my opinion – and some have even voiced a contrary position that was so well articulated as to make some logical reasonable sense and at least modify my position (which tends to side with a creator).

What I want to mention is this:

It is the corporations, like Marvel, Disney, and Time-Warner who opened the gate on these lawsuits when THEY THEMSELVES lobbied for the copyright laws to be amended.

These companies – though I think principally Disney – didn’t want their characters to fall into the public domain, so they lobbied and were successfully in doing so. The copyright law was ammended.

It is because of this that the gate – as it were – was left open for creators and heirs of creators to try fto make a play for these royalties/settlements.

All I say therefore is this: What is good for the goose, is good for the gander.

I also seriously doubt that were ANY of us – regardless of the stance taken on this thread – in a similar situation to the one these heirs find themselves in (a chance at scoring some of these profits, etc) that we would balk at the chance of at least trying to get a bit of the pie. Anyone that says otherwise is either more altruistic than most I have ever met, or the worst kind of liar.

I find this to be a tad shady coming soo soon AFTER the announced Disney purchase of Marvel. The family is probably just looking for some coin. He did not create those characters by himself as there was a co-creator. My guess, Disney will throw some coin at them and they will be happy. Afterall, that is all they want.

Steven Grant writes:

“Work-for-hire” didn’t exist as a legal concept before the 1976 copyright law so whatever Jack created or co-created it wasn’t done under work for hire though it may have been done under general belief that the publisher would be the owner of the creations.

However, work done before 1976 can be work for hire, provided certain conditions are met. In last month’s opinion regarding the copyrights to the early Superman stories, the judge established that most of the work Siegel and Shuster did for DC was work made for hire, including even most of the work done before they signed a contract in September 1938.

Yes, Rodrigo, but Siegel & Shuster did sign contracts, several of them, and those have always been obstacles in their case because the contracts can be read as an expression of intent.

Kirby never had a contract with Marvel. There is no concrete expression of intent, only supposition based on vague, extralegal concepts like “standard business practices” that’s contradicted by statements Kirby made later in life. Whether those statements match his thinking at the time is subject to question but his situation is different from Siegel & Shuster’s.

Tim:

That the Kirby suit came after the Marvel-Disney lawsuit no more suggests cause and effect than the DC Entertainment announcement following on the heels of Marvel-Disney does, though it may look that way. A suit of this nature is rarely thrown together in a matter of weeks. They might have moved the date of their suit to take advantage of the publicity surrounding Marvel-Disney, but that’s a pretty standard legal ploy, and almost certainly they weren’t being informed by Marvel (or Disney) that purchase talks were going on. It’s very unlikely the lawsuit was concocted following the Marvel-Disney announcement.

It is possible the Kirby family only wants money, but they would at least appear to have a genuine interest in preserving Jack’s legacy. (Believe me, it’s a source of family pride.)

- Grant

Kirby’s heirs deserve something. I can’t say what or how much, but I know that Jack would want them to have their share. Marvel has been sometimes referred to as the house that “Stan and Jack” built. Jack Kirby was, is, and shall always be a legend.

Steven, my points were two: that work done before 1976 can be work made for hire (correcting your initial assertion), and that in fact most of the Superman stories Siegel and Shuster did *before* they signed a contract in September 1938 were recently considered to be work for hire.

I agree the Kirby situation is different, I personally believe it’s going to be much harder for the Kirby family to regain a part of these rights. Since Kirby was developing concepts under the editorial direction of Stan Lee, his case isn’t as clear-cut as the Siegel-Shuster one (in which they developed Superman on their own, and then brought a finished product to DC after having failed with other publishers).

@ Blade X: “That is definitely, without question, the truth. However, does that mean that Kirby and the other creators who created/co-created the Marvel characters (a) did not create these characters as a work for hire (b) did not create/co-create these characters without full knowledge that Marvel would own all rights to these characters (c) that by the standard of those days, the deal those artists signed off on and worked under was somehow unfair”

Interesting turn of phrase. Notice how you use a negative in all three of those examples?

Here’s the thing: burden of proof is on the POSITIVE. The Kirby heirs don’t have to DISPROVE that the work was work-for-hire and he willingly gave his characters away to Marvel, Marvel has to PROVE that it was and he did.

“and (d) that Kirby’s heirs deserve (not to mention, have an ounce of legal right) to reclaim partial ownership of those characters that Kirby created/co-created?”

The law allows for copyright termination if the work is created outside of a work-for-hire contract. If Kirby signed a contract before creating the Fantastic Four et al, then the burden is on Marvel to produce it. (The fact that Marvel tried to get Kirby to sign a contract saying he wouldn’t seek termination suggests that they knew he had the right to do so.)

The Spider-Man claim, on the other hand, is dubious; that’s one where the Kirby heirs are going to have to produce proof of Kirby’s hand in creating Spidey. I don’t see them succeeding in that, and Ditko’s certainly not going to file a copyright termination. That means Marvel’s rights to Spider-Man are pretty well secure until the next time Disney has to bribe Congress to extend copyright another two decades.

there wont be a 2013 i will destroy the world thanks to disney now there ******* my childhood first spiderman looks badass now look at him watch disney spiderman he looks like a ******* wuss whats next hulk will be all nice and helping the enviroment i hope disney and disney fans die peace disney wankers

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