Following in the footsteps of Jerry Seigel's estate lawsuit against DC Comics over the ownership of Superman, the estate of Jack Kirby is suing Marvel, Disney, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Universal and many others to reclaim copyright ownership of Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, the X-Men and others.
The notices expressed an intent to regain copyrights to some of Mr. Kirby’s creations as early as 2014, according to a statement disclosed on Sunday by Toberoff & Associates, a law firm in Los Angeles that helped win a court ruling last year returning a share of the copyright in Superman to heirs of one of the character’s creators, Jerome Siegel.
Reached by telephone on Sunday, Marc Toberoff, the firm’s founding partner, declined to elaborate on his firm’s statement. A spokeswoman for Marvel had no comment.
Disney said in a statement, “the notices involved are an attempt to terminate rights 7 to 10 years from now, and involve claims that were fully considered in the acquisition.” Fox, Sony, Paramount and Universal had no comment.
Marvel’s management agreed to sell the company to Disney last month, though the deal still requires the approval of Marvel’s shareholders.
Even before the Kirby family sent its notices, Disney was facing criticism from some Wall Street analysts who expressed concern that Marvel’s complex web of copyright agreements might prevent Disney from capitalizing on some Marvel assets.
Sony has the film rights to Spider-Man in perpetuity, for instance, while Fox has the rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four. Paramount has a distribution agreement for a few movies that Marvel is producing on its own, including a second “Iron Man” film.
Mr. Kirby, who died in 1994, worked with the writer and editor Stan Lee to create many of the characters that in the last decade have become especially valuable to Hollywood. Mr. Kirby was involved with the Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man and the Avengers, among other characters that have been adapted for the screen since his death.
The window for serving notice of termination on the oldest of the properties opened several years ago, and will remain open for some time under copyright law. But Disney’s pending purchase of Marvel has given anyone with possible Marvel claims more reason to pose a challenge.
Under copyright law, the author or his heirs can begin a process to regain copyrights for a period of time after the original grant. If Mr. Kirby’s four children were to gain the copyright to a character Mr. Kirby helped create, they might become entitled to a share of profits from films or other properties using it.
They might also find themselves able to sell rights to certain characters without consent from Marvel, Disney or the various studios that have licensed the Marvel properties for their hit films.In July, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that Warner Brothers and its DC Comics unit had not violated rights of the Siegel heirs in handling internal transactions related to Superman. But an earlier ruling had granted the heirs a return of their share in the copyright.
What a load of crap. I respect Kirby's art and contribution but he was hired for a job and he did it. If he wanted ownership over the characters, he should have started his own company.