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Online Petition asks Marvel to give Kirby credit

Jack Kirby

If Twitter had existed back in the mid-1980s, things might have turned out differently for Jack Kirby and, ultimately, his heirs. Perhaps Marvel’s demand that he permanently sign away the copyright to all his work for them in return for very limited rights to his original art would have triggered the sort of online firestorm that scotched the Bank of America debit card fees, SOPA/PIPA, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s brief moment of collusion with the hard right. Then again, maybe not—the internet can be fickle.

A number of creators criticized Marvel’s actions at the time, and in the end they did soften a bit and come up with a deal Kirby could sign. More recently, Kirby’s heirs tried to claim ownership of a number of copyrights for characters he created, but the judge in that case ruled in Marvel’s favor without even going to trial. Now Change.org is giving it a second try, with an internet petition asking Marvel to make things right with Kirby and his heirs:

We strongly urge Marvel Entertainment and its owner Disney to acknowledge Jack Kirby’s authorship and primary role in the creation of these characters. As well, we urge Marvel to pay Kirby’s family royalties or other just compensation for the use of these characters and stories.

The petition calls on the signatories to boycott Marvel until that happens. So far, despite appearing on The Beat, the petition only has 229 signatures, which isn’t likely to move the sales needle enough for Marvel to notice.

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27 Comments

Far too little and far, far too late.

They should have showered the man with riches befitting the king he was while he was still alive to appreciate it.

Is it not possible to leave politics out of this? It’s ridiculous that I can’t even read an article/opinion on Jack Kirby without the need to throw in a partisan comment.

It might sound callous, but at the end of the day why should I really care either way? Its a private matter that has nothing to do with me.

Like Vince said, it’s far too little and far too late.

Kirby is dead and the bad guys won.

So opposing abortion is “hard right” now? Why don’t you try saving that subject and whatever snark you have for it for another column instead of de-railing this one that’s supposed to be about Jack Kirby?

1. You can’t make things right with Jack Kirby, as the gentleman passed away some years ago. The fact that it is now too late is frustrating to many people, and so it’s natural enough that they feel a compulsion to somehow overturn a history which is very disappointing. Ultimately, however, this is not possible. No matter how bad people feel about it, it is too late all the same.

2. There is no need to make things right with Mr. Kirby’s heirs. They did not create Captain America, the Hulk, the X-Men, etc., etc. Therefore they are not owed compensation for use of these characters, either legally or morally. If perchance any of the Kirby heirs are facing hard times and in financial need (which I am not aware is the case, though many people are these days) then they are neither more nor less deserving of assistance than any other needy person; we should help the needy but famous parentage should not give one needy person priority over another.

3. “Just compensation” for the use of characters and stories created half a century ago is a highly-subjective concept, at best. Once upon a time, legal copyright expired after a limited time (as the Constitution prescribes) and, in return for the publicly-funded legal system’s enforcement of a temporary artificial monopoly on copyrighted works, the public was justly compensated through enlargement of the public domain. And ideas became free for anyone to use, and to collect whatever compensation they could in return for doing something new with those ideas, rather than simply demanding a toll for the “rights” to those ideas. This concept has been overturned through repeated copyright term extension legislation, largely bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists though often supported by artists who produced work under a given social contract and subsequently felt that those terms were unfair. These arguments continue, with the public domain typically losing in favor of private profits, but it is by no means a settled issue that maintaining an artificial monopoly on 50-year-old ideas at public expense amounts to “just compensation.”

@Michael: An organization swiftly reversing course based on Internet outcry is clearly and directly pertinent to what we’re talking about.

That said, Internet petitions are essentially worthless. If people actually manage a boycott that actually hurts Marvel’s bottom line — meaning the Avengers movie, not just the comics — then Marvel might listen. Short of that, an online petition is just something that makes people feel like they’re doing something without the burden of actually doing anything.

@urghhh: Why should anyone care about anything?

When you give money to a company, you support its business practices. Presumably there is some sort of action Marvel could commit that would so upset you that you would not want to financially support it. For some people, failing to compensate Kirby is that action.

@Dudeski: Being so opposed to abortion that you won’t support cancer screenings from a women’s health organization that performs abortions as just one of a great many services is hard right, yes.

@Wraith: Per your #1 argument: no disagreement.
Per #2: I understand the argument that Kirby’s heirs didn’t create any of these characters, but neither did Bob Iger, and he’s getting a paycheck for them. Had Kirby been fairly compensated in his lifetime, he would have left that money to his children.
Per #3: I absolutely agree that the indefinite extension of copyright is detrimental to the public interest and that, ideally, the copyright would be running out right over the next few years and neither Marvel NOR the Kirby heirs would have the rights anymore.

@Thad

Good point, I guess its entirely a matter of perspective. From my perspective there are more important and pressing issues and I understand that it might not be the same for others.

I find it irresponsible for any third party to demand this or that on behalf of someone else without knowing all of the details of the situation. With all due respect to the King, Kirby was a big boy and he made the deal he made, now he has to live with it (oh…wait…).

Furthermore, why would I want the price of my comics to be raised because Marvel has to pay royalties to a bunch of freeloading relatives that had nothing to do with Kirby’s creations???

@Chris: Kirby made the deal he did because he thought it was the only way Marvel would give him his art back. Oh, by the way, funny story about that…

Id love Kirbys family to get some money, but legally, do they have a leg to stand on? Kirby didnt copyright any of those characters. They belonged to Marvel. Its still like that even today, unless you have some kind of special contract with them.

@Jp: The heirs’ argument is that Kirby created the characters first and then sold them to Marvel — but they haven’t produced any hard evidence to support that claim. There IS historical evidence that Kirby worked on characters on his own time and then sold them (for example, he developed the New Gods while he was still freelancing for Marvel), but the heirs have been unable to prove any of the work they’re seeking termination on was done on that basis.

Though again, a bunch of the original art Marvel promised to return mysteriously vanished and never got back to Kirby. If Kirby DID do work on spec and Marvel lost the evidence, wouldn’t that be convenient?

(Adding: And even assuming the heirs don’t have the legal right to ask for any money — which we have to assume at this point, as that’s what the courts have said — there’s an argument that Marvel should give them royalties, or at least a stipend, anyway, purely on ethical grounds.)

This is the topic of the day, I guess:
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2012/02/the_avengers_why_i_m_boycotting_marvel_s_movie.3.html

While I’m firmly in the camp that believes Marvel needs to make some sort of grand gesture (overdue as it is) to acknowledge Kirby’s contributions to the company, I don’t believe a boycott (of the comics or the movies) is going to have any effect. As the comments here show, the fans are divided on this topic, and non-comics fans probably don’t care.

That said, I don’t know how anyone who loves Marvel comics could possibly take an anti-Kirby stance. Yes, Marvel is in the legal right, but they are not in the ethical or moral right. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Fantastic Four, Avengers, Captain America, X-Men, Thor, or Hulk comic book, then you should at least acknowledge that.

Stan Lee got filthy rich from compensation. Why can’t thr Kirbys?

This is actually a fairly complicated issue, or at least, has plenty to debate. Sure the heirs can ask for money, but anyone can ask for money. Yes Jack Kirby was a legend yes he got screwed but guess what, he wasn’t the first back then, Bill Finger anyone.

I’m not saying that it’s right, but it happened and we can’t make up for that. As far as the heirs things are tough all over, we’re all having hard times and it does make people a little less sensitive to the plights of others who want something for nothing. Do the Kirby heirs deserve money? Absolutely not, they haven’t created anything. Now it is a fair point that is Kirby the money he would have left plenty to his heirs. We also can’t prove that, it’s entirely possible that Kirby (assuming he had gotten the money he deserves), would have left his wife and went on the road spending all his money and drinking himself to death, still leaving his heirs with nothing.

My point is that we can’t prove what would have happened and while I do feel for the heirs who I think would have had a better like “IF”. Sadly “if” didn’t happen and we wouldn’t even be talking about this if these weren’t the heirs of “The King”.

Finally, it doesn’t matter the “hardness” or the “rightness” of the abortion issue this article is about Jack Kirby and his heirs. I implore you to ignore the jags with the agenda.

@Mr. Pants Jack’s relative didn’t own Marvel and he didn’t have a younger brother on the company payroll to lie for him in court.

Until Marvel and DC finally go out of business, there will never be justice for all the terrible business practices that people accept as ‘business as usual’ in the mainstream comic book world. Other publishing businesses don’t work this way.

I feel sorry for anybody so scared that they’ll lose the next issue of some soulless crappy Marvel/DC comic that they think the challenges to Marvel/DC should stop. Those challenges should never stop until the rightful creators or their estates are getting their due.

Marvel and DC should shut their doors. Creators should own their creations.

It would be nice to see if this could make some sort of difference, but I have a hard time seeing. For the most part, comic fans don’t really care about the creators involved, let alone their descendants.

Unless they’re Alan Moore, apparently.

Thanks everyone for taking the time to talk about the petition! We’re approaching 500 signatures and I’m hoping for thousands more. I think, regardless of what you think the result will be, a huge number of people signing the petition (let’s say, the number of people who currently buy Fantastic Four?) can’t help but bring negative publicity to something that Marvel/Disney and their shareholders are relying on for their bottom line in 2012 –the Avengers movie. Why would they want that when a relatively small amount of money could show their goodwill and willingness to make amends?

(BTW, there is a no-Watchmen prequel petition on change.org as well.)

federal copyright law specifically states that the heirs of kirby are considered the same as kirby himself, meaning law sees it as they also created the works. federal laws here people. laws that are still on the books for the supreme courts. its even mentioned in the ongoing superman lawsuits. i feel marvel should realize that if they continue to treat people/creators with disrespect, that many, many more lawsuits will happen on thier behalf. i will see to that myself. liv gleason, jack binder, and jack cole created daredevil, NOT stan lee, or marvel, who used the copyright 4 years before it lapsed into the public domain, which is a felony.

I swear, if I had taken over either one of those companies, things would be different–RADICALLY different. For starters, I’d completely overhaul the work-for-hire system so we don’t have any repetition of the Kirby/Siegel-Shuster/Moore situations in future years. How? By permanently declaring a new system where the company AND the creator sign into a CO-OWNERSHIP deal: each party gets half the copyright to the property, each half is the same figurative “size” in terms of profits, royalties and/or stipends. Second, and this would probably be the most controversial: I’d campaign for the government to end the whole “limited liability” loophole for big corporations by BEGGING to have either company I’d hypothetically had taken over (DC or Marvel) be given FULL liability–in other words, begging to have the legal rights TAKEN AWAY from the company. If I had taken over a company whose actions fit the prognosis of “psychopath”, I’d do everything in my power to lobotomize that company.

Also, for all this talk of boycotts and whatnot, let’s see it happen, guys. Let’s dare those who claim they’ll boycott Marvel-related entertainment to actually go through with it–I’d like to see it happen. PLEASE. They talk the talk, let’s see them walk the walk and actually go through with a boycott. Same with DC regarding the Siegel/Shuster case and Moore. I want to see people who are big fans actually boycott the entertainment they’re addicted to. So please, people, dare them to do it.

Whatsamatta, braggarts, CHICKEN??? Buck-buck-buck-buckAW!!!

@Defiance-Defiant: The law, up to this point, has ruled that Marvel is the legal creator of all those characters, not Kirby, Lee, Lieber, Heck, Ditko, or any actual human being. This is based on the legal notion of work-for-hire, and the determination that Kirby (et al) created these works at Marvel’s instance and expense, not on his own initiative.

The Superman case is completely different, because Superman was NOT created as work-for-hire; Siegel and Shuster created him and then SOLD him to DC.

(The Kirby heirs claim that Kirby did the same with some of his works, but have been unable to prove it in court. Personally I think there’s proof in the thousands of pages of original art that Marvel promised to return and then left unattended so it would mysteriously disappear, but that’s conjecture on my part.)

And regarding Daredevil, you seem to be confusing copyright with trademark. The Daredevil name is a trademark, but the Marvel Daredevil is a completely separate copyright from the (no-longer-copyrighted) Gleason version.

I’m sympathetic to the points you’re trying to make, but it sounds like you’re confused on several different aspects of copyright and trademark law. You may want to read the judgement from Marvel v Kirby/Kirby v Marvel for more information; Colleen Doran’s got it up at http://adistantsoil.com/2011/07/28/marvel-comics-vs-jack-kirby-decision-marvel-wins/ . It’s a very good read and sheds a lot of light on why the Kirbys’ case failed. It’s unfortunate, but I can’t find a flaw with the judge’s reasoning.

Which is why, even though I think this petition is silly and useless, I think we absolutely DO need creators speaking up about the unfairness of what’s happened. I think the court of public opinion is the Kirbys’ best shot at getting recognition and compensation at this point.

@Thad
Then that’s what really needs to be done: get the public informed on this, and then let THEM decide what should happen going forward.

I don’t think anyone has claimed he didn’t create these characters, just that he doesn’t own them. And no matter the petition, there is no way Disney will ever hand over the copywrite.

@Travis: The petition is not asking Disney to hand over the copyright. The heirs tried to get it and lost, and Sturm acknowledges that.

The petition is merely asking that the heirs receive compensation. It’s not saying Marvel is legally bound to give it to them, just that it would be the right thing to do.

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