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How will the overreacty Internet respond to this?

Marvel sues to keep Spider-Man, X-Men copyrights.

NEW YORK (AP) — Marvel is suing to keep the rights to superheroes including Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and X-Men.

The federal lawsuit filed Friday in Manhattan asks a judge to invalidate notices sent by the heirs of artist Jack Kirby to try to terminate Marvel’s copyrights.

The heirs sent notified several companies last year that the rights to the characters would revert from Marvel to Kirby’s estate.

The lawsuit says Kirby’s work on the comics were “for hire” and render the heirs’ claims invalid.

Comic book characters such as Spider-Man and the X-Men have become some of Hollywood’s most bankable properties in recent years.

Marc Toberoff, an attorney for the Kirby heirs, said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.

Commence outrageous rants about “Motherfucking Kirby heirs trying to stop Marvel from publishing the only superhero comics that I have ever cared about and why do they want to rape my childhood and my adulthood and why are they so fucking greedy and why can’t they just realize that Stan Lee was the real fucking genius behind these characters anyway?!?!?!?!?” in 3 … 2 …

59 Comments

even though Marvel will no doubt be able to prove the stuff was work for hire. Kirby estate still deserves some credit as co creator of said characters . for after all stan lee did not solety create the characters he had help including Jack. its only fair that jack get some thing for helping to create something that has made people happy.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

January 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Whatever, it’s just like the Siegel lawsuit in that the trademarks won’t go too, and at most Kirby’s heirs might expect to get some partial payments.

This is almost certainly the result of Disney buying Marvel, especially as the Kirby family had seemingly made a tentative peace with them. And Disney lawyers plus the well-circulated contracts Kirby signed in the 1960s would also seem to make this lawsuit far less likely to succeed than the Siegels’ case.

None of this will stop the responses of both the “not mah favrits!” fans and the Kirby partisans who believe the King is due eleventy billion dollars and the still-beating heart of Stan Lee. Nor will it stop me from laughing at those people.

Roquefort Raider

January 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I really was under the impression that Jack’s work fell under the “work for hire” clause. Does Jack deserve recognition for his immense contribution to American comic-books? Yes, definitely. Does that mean his heirs should get the rights to his work and to ancillary products? That, I think, is a matter better left to lawyers. They’re paid to untangle these issues.

Now we’ll get the Marvel side of the DC folks who went “How dare those GREEDY Siegel heirs want a piece of the billion upon billions of dollars that Superman has grossed!”

and the “OH NO, they won’t take away my Superman fix! It’s mine…. MINE! I HAVE TO KNOW HOW NEW KRYPTON ENDS!”

As if they wouldn’t do the same if they were in the shoes of the Siegel or Kirby heirs.

“So… your grandfather helped create something that is worth billions of dollars. You have the opportunity to get a chunk of that revenue. What are your thoughts?”
“Nah, I’ll pass. Never did like ol’ Grandad anyway. He was always too busy drawing until his fingers bled to earn a living at pennies on the dollar to take me fishing.”

Can’t be arsed. I’m enjoying a delicious fajita wrap.

My thing has always been that pretty much no one who is posting on message boards and making comments really knows anything. It is all conjecture. I, and I’m guessing the rest of you, have never seen Kirby’s contracts or paperwork or whatever from back in the day. So we really don’t know. I’m guessing that this will shake out to Marvel keeping sole ownership and some sort of settlement. And that is not necessarily because the Kirby estate has a real case, it is just how most of these cases resolve.

Motherfucking Kirby heirs trying to stop Marvel from publishing the only superhero comics that I have ever cared about and why do they want to rape my childhood and my adulthood and why are they so fucking greedy and why can’t they just realize that Stan Lee was the real fucking genius behind these characters anyway?!?!?!?!?

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

January 8, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I can’t blame the heirs for looking for some money now that Marvel has a deep-pocketed new owner, but I also think that they have a weaker claim than Siegel and Shuster for a great many reasons. They probably will get more money out of the inevitable settlement, however, which is the general purpose of suits like this.

That said, there’s something a bit uncomfortable to me personally on both ends of this. Yes, Jack Kirby got screwed and there’s an injustice there. At the same time, I don’t like private inheritance of copyrights any better than I like the (Disney-lobbied-for) endless extensions of copyright ownership in general. The people who profit in either instance aren’t the actual creators, and they often make a hollow mockery of part of the original purpose of copyright in American law, which was at once meant to ensure the protection of people who created such stuff but also to limit ownership to a defined and limited period of time after which public domain sets in.

At some point, neither the nth-generation ownership of Marvel nor the nth-generation Kirby descendants should have any claim on this stuff, but the way things work now, copyright term limits tend to be extended conveniently ahead of whenever the last extension is due to run out.

I bet the lawyers for both sides are pretty excited for this. Cha-ching!

Actually, Greg, I think that the majority of the Internet opinion tends to side with Kirby against Stan Lee. (which I don’t agree, by the way. I have huge respect for both of them and would like for Jack Kirby to have the same mainstream recognition that Stan has).

we know the properties aren’t going anywhere. however, the Kirby estate does have a good shot at some sort of settlement or compensation from Marvel / Disney, and i think that’s what will end up coming out of this.

I wonder what Steve Ditko has to say about Kirby’s estate suing for the rights to Spider-Man. Somebody didn’t do their homework!

Just curious…

Why would Kirby’s heirs get the rights to those characters and not Stan Lee? I’m asking because it says Kirby’s heirs want to “terminate” Marvel’s copyright. It wouldn’t go solely to Kirby’s side then, right?

no big whoop. i see nothing wrong with either the heirs trying to get some money (as all of us would do) and Marvel/Disney fighting to give them nothing.

as far as ethics, maybe kirby deserved more money or credit for creating marvel characters, but the opportunity to redress this injustice ended when kirby died. i could give a crap about his heirs. but like i said, i dont begrudge them for trying, as i certainly would.

A disturbing aspect of the Kirby family claim with regards to Spider-Man is that they’re not only claiming the character himself but supporting characters up such as J. Jonah Jameson and the Lizard, characters created by Ditko long after Kirby’s tenuous connection with Spider-Man.

Motherfucking Marvel, trying to ruin comics I don’t really read, everybody knows that Kirby was the true genius behind those books!

What would be great is if they win a significant settlement, then take a percentage of all those profits and fund scholarships for young comic artists to study their craft, grants for cartoonists to self-publish, etc. That way they’d be giving back to the art form that Kirby did so much to nurture.

Tom Fitzpatrick

January 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Nothing lasts forever.

Perhaps Marvel NEEDS to be humbled.

Same applies to DC.

Good for those cats. Jack Kirby was a visionary fuckin’ prophet. Make it rain Kribys.

Just because you are the publisher, shouldn’t man you own the characters. I mean if i create it and you publish it, that shouldn’t make it yours. That makes no sense. Thats what copyright laws were made for.

Louis Bright-Raven

January 8, 2010 at 4:39 pm

*shrugs indifferently*

I look at it this way – if by some crazy insane manner the estate gets the right sot the character properties and Marvel were to lose them entirely – it’ll make life in the industry more interesting.

Fuck you Kirby heirs, your creations belong to Marvel! You will get some kind of money out of this, and then you will become like John Byrne.

Don’t care anymore. Been reading Marvel pretty much non-stop since 1970 (at age 6) and even survived the Marvel books of the 1990′s. Did Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Civil War, World War Hulk, One More Day, Secret Invasion and got halfway through Dark Reign before deciding that the Marvel of Bendis and Quesada is garbage and the Lee-Kirby-Ditko-Etc creations died long ago.

I dug into DC with Blackest Night with only a bare-bones knowledge of DC and since then it’s been “Make Mine DC!” Been buying back issues from 1960′s to the present like crazy and having a ball. It’s like discovering comics all over again.

DC has comics that actually take longer than 5 minutes to read, better writing, better art and even when they botch things up (Final Crisis, Batman RIP) it seems “tastes great and more filling” than anything Marvel has done in years.

They have no claim to Spider-Man because he was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. So the judge should throw that claim out. That being said they’ll probably settle, Marvel is not going to give those characters up and the Kirby Estate cannot (to my knowledge) afford a long drawn out legal battle with Disney’s lawyers who sue if Mickey Mouse is on the wall of a day care center.

This is very much like the Siegel suit.

My understanding is that everyone working for Marvel in the ’60s had to sign a “contract” printed on the back of their checks stating that it was work-for-hire. Those checks seem like an issue, since it is hardly what most people understand to be a contract. This is similar to the situation with Siegel and Shuster in that they signed a bad contract when they were very young.

Also like Siegel and Shuster, Kirby went back to the bargaining table later in life. Now, the King was cut an absolutely terrible deal by Marvel. Warners gave Siegel and Shuster a life stipend, but Kirby basically just got his original art back. However, there was a later contract that he negotiated with his eyes open.

What is interesting to me is that Marvel’s attorneys are not arguing that Kirby sold the characters, but that they were done work-for-hire. They are trying to enforce those checks. If they lose, then it sets a precedent for Ditko and everyone else that worked for Marvel in the Silver Age to sue.

The case is made more awkward by Marvel owning all rights to Roz and Lisa Kirby. They’re required to send in a nickel every time they call one another by name or take a family photo.

Where is the list of characters Kirbys heirs actually want? Like mentioned w/ Spider-Man Marvel has a very good case, the X-Men Kirby had a part in have run their course (as long as Marvel can keep the previously published stories), and the Fantastic Four aren’t good comics a good chunk of the time.

Here’s what I wrote on my blog earlier today:
I don’t really know what to say about this as copyright law makes my head hurt, and it’s hard to comment on a complicated case like this just based on an online article. I don’t know how valid the claim from Marvel is that Jack Kirby’s work was “for hire”, unless you’re considering his work upon return to Marvel in the mid 1970s, as the “work for hire” exception to the copyright law took effect in 1977, or the agreement he had to sign to get some of his artwork back in the 1980s. I also don’t know to what extent he was involved in the creation of Spider-man. I know he drew the original Amazing Fantasy #15 cover and had a role in the initial design, but not much else beyond that.
I know that the comics fans and sites’ reactions to this will reflect largely upon their feelings for Kirby and Marvel. If they want to keep the comics and stories coming, they’re going to be on the side of Marvel and see the Kirby heirs as ursurpers only planning to ruin their good time. If they’re sympathetic to creators’ rights and feel Kirby got a bad deal, they’ll side with the heirs.

Philip asked:

Just curious…

Why would Kirby’s heirs get the rights to those characters and not Stan Lee? I’m asking because it says Kirby’s heirs want to “terminate” Marvel’s copyright. It wouldn’t go solely to Kirby’s side then, right?

I don’t know this for a fact, but from what I’ve read Lee signed a contract (disclaimer, waiver, quit claim, whatever) basically saying that any legal claim he might have had, has, or will ever have to those characters he cedes to Marvel, in return for some pretty big amount of money (either annually or in one lump sum, I forget). Back in the ’70s.

I would think that if Kirby’s heirs’ suit is successful they’d get half of the copyright, just as Seigel’s heirs did. But conversely, the Schuster heirs can (and will) try to get his half of the copyright back when they’re legally allowed to do so, whereas Lee’s heirs can’t. But I don’t know any specifics of the suit so I couldn’t say for certain. Plus, you know, not a lawyer.

Greg Burgas thinks Marvel should lose the rights to:
Spider-Man
the X-Men

If anyone was ever seeking a good case study, or just clear example of, passive aggression this post would definitely fit the bill.

If I’m Marvel I settle:

“Here’s some Kirby Crackle and Galactus’s helmet. Now get out of my office.”

Dudes in Robot 6 are goin’ CRAZY, all “I don’t know stuff about laws but here are my angry thoughts.”

Does Kirby deserve to have his name in the credits of every FF, Captain America, and Hulk issue? Of course. Does he deserve his name on X-Men and Avengers? Technically, but he honestly didn’t seem to care much about those books, especially the X-Men. His work on that was mediocre. Does the “estate” deserve a penny? Nope. If Kirby were alive then I’d say give him millions, but he’s dead.
If there is a principle involved then have them pump royalties into The Hero Initiative, Comicbook Legal Defense Fund, and other related charities. But people do not deserve to profit from purely their ancestor’s creativity. If the kids won’t go for giving the profits to charity then it’s a cash grab and they are no better than Marvel/Disney. Worse, in fact, because Marvel/Disney is actually making effective use of Kirby’s creations to allow others to do more creative work with them.

Kirby may have created A Spider-Man, but he bore no resemblance at all to the character that Marvel eventually published. If his heirs get any ownership at all of Spider-Man, then Bob Bolling should be given ownership of Doctor Doom.

There’s roughly zero chance that this imbroglio will stop the publication of anyone’s favorite comic books.

Anyone got any popcorn to eat while we watch this thing unfold in court over the next five or so years?

The only thing that gets me riled about copyright law is how Disney and other big guns have contrived to have their copyrights extended and extended, making the date Mickey Mouse enters the public domain effectively “Infinity +1″.
I hope Kirby’s estate gets their bajillion dollars, at least for the stuff he actually worked on.

Matthew Johnson

January 9, 2010 at 10:46 am

Here is a good summary of the case by someone who is actually a law student, from a Web site that specializes in IP issues: http://www.iposgoode.ca/2009/10/termination-of-transfer-of-copyright-and-the-estate-of-jack-kirby/

The fact is Kirby never asked for ownership over the characters, he only wanted to be credited as creator or co-creator(the “Stan Lee Presents…” tag did a lot of damage!), and being paid proper royalties for sales profit. At the end of his life, he managed to get his original art($$$) for his widow and heirs, and marvel paid a pension to his wife. He hadn’t a fair deal when he worked for marvel, but for sure his heirs don’t have any rights over the characters(legally or morally). Maybe the marvel guys, as they are f*****g loaded, should pay some royalties to Kirby’s heirs, but it’s up to them and their consciences…

(the Mark Evanier book about Kirby is a must read about this kind of issues)

How can Kirby’s estate sue for Spiderman?

If I am not mistaken, the first draft of Spider-Man was made by Kirby. But it did not last enough to be published; by then Ditko had taken over.

It didn”t take many posts for someone to assert that Kirby’s heirs are suing Marvel, when in fact the opposite is the case.

JoJangles the Lizard Monster

January 9, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Marvel has a right to worry about this lawsuit, Lisa Kirby and the estate’s demands are an outrageous demand. Having said that, Jack Kirby’s disputes with Marvel led to the company choosing to award him nothing of worth or thanks for the work he developed with Stan Lee that has earned the company billions of dollars. Consider that the characters he is most famous for visually conceiving are the five original X-Men, Magneto, Professor X, the Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom, Galactus and the Silver Surfer, the Skrulls, the Hulk, Asgard’s Thor & Loki, most of the first few original Avengers, and Captain America. That’s a good portion of Marvel’s cannon (core marvel universe, character resource, source of income, whatever you want to call it), and back in the 80′s, Kirby wasn’t asking for as much as his estate is: the original artwork that he submitted for “work-for-hire”.
The properties that he’s had his hands in developing are too invaluable for Marvel to just give up, and they do own the characters. But more credit should be given to the creators, and Kirby has been gone for almost 16 years now. His family doesn’t deserve the “ownership” of his characters, however, putting myself in J.K.’s shoes, I would want my family to be well off after I’ve died with financial support from the work I’ve made. And just because the king is dead doesn’t mean that his heirs have absolutely no right to demand something from the company that has only really been supportive of more recent creators when it comes to their art.

And one more thing. Why can’t it be “Stan Lee & Jack Kirby Presents…” at the beginning of every Marvel book?

Dean said:

“My understanding is that everyone working for Marvel in the ’60s had to sign a “contract” printed on the back of their checks stating that it was work-for-hire.”

Dean, that has already been invalidated by a court. It can’t be a contract because it was something added after the work was done. And many creators actually scribbled out that before signing their checks.

“And one more thing. Why can’t it be “Stan Lee & Jack Kirby Presents…” at the beginning of every Marvel book?”

Because that would be grammatically incorrect.

Copyright laws need an overhaul anyway. Nobody should own the Fantastic Four anymore.

Can someone explain to me something, here? It seems like it’s Marvel that’s suing, and Marvel that wants to renegotiate the deal, not Kirby’s family. So why are so many comments making it look like it’s the Kirby heirs’ fault?

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

January 9, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Because the suit is in response to a questionable claim by the Kirby estate: The heirs sent notified several companies last year that the rights to the characters would revert from Marvel to Kirby’s estate.

psh. thats whats wrong with this country, endless copy write extensions. Superman, Batman, X-men, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, etc. all should be public domain by know. That stuff belongs to everyone as much as anyone. I hope at least Uncle Sam is public domain…

“How can Kirby’s estate sue for Spiderman?”

Kirby, (and Joe Simon) both claim to have created at least the Spiderman (no hyphen) name, and Kirby probably did some rejected pages for Amazing Fantasy # 15.

It’s really fairly baseless, but I figure the Kirby heirs are all “What the hell, maybe.”

Reading the Robot Six thread:

Man, the anti-Kirby people tend to have a REALLY shaky grasp of the facts. I’ve already learned that Steve Ditko is dead and that Joe Simon co-created the Challengers of the Unknown! Also, Kirby ran his own comic company!

Here is my (completely worthless) opinion. They should get nothing because as far as I am aware, back in the day it was pretty standard for all creators to be work for hire. As such it is no different than if I work for Microsoft as a programmer and develop windows 12(and yes I know they have teams working on those things). Sure, I may have come up with the programming but I was getting paid to do it by the company and using their resources for the production thereof. As such I get my payment and a job and they get to sell the product and make a ton of money. Could I go off and develop a comparable program by myself? Of course but it would take money and time that I might otherwise not have. Of course if I then market it and seel a crapload I can make a huge amount of money. So should he get credit? Maybe if Marvel wants to give it (marketing your stars is, I believe, never a bad move). But I have not seen anyones contracts so it is all conjecture at this point. However, if the Kirby estate gets the rights to them I am confident someone will still be publishing these comics and big name people will still want to play in that playground.

@ Busterchops:

Except, it is not like your example at all.

Under the law as it existed at the time Kirby worked for Marvel, they had the right to two 28 year terms. Copyright on the Fantastic Four would enter the public domain in 2017, Spider-Man in 2018 and the X-Men in 2019. That is what they paid for and they got an extremely good deal.

Had congress not extended the copyright periods, this would all be moot.

To compensate the creators for the years of copyright that they had no reason to know would or could exist when they made their deals, they (and their heirs) were given the right to re-claim the rights for themselves. The Kirby heirs appear to be properly exercising those rights. If the “contracts” on the back of the checks have already been shown to be invalid, then Marvel really does not have leg to stand on with regard to the question of work-for-hire. The Siegel case seems to indicate that the Kirby heirs are likely to prevail.

The big question in my mind is how much they get and what they do with it.

You could argue that the Marvel method was such that the artist deserves more than 50% of the rights, since they did more than 50% of the work. Similarly, Spider-Man does not have to be divided up 50-50. Even if Kirby only did 10% of the creating, then the heirs are looking at a huge financial windfall. God only knows how much money that Spidey generates in revenue of the merchandise side every year.

I’m not a legal expert, so it’s possible I’m wrong here, but since people keep bringing up the Siegel case I think it needs to be pointed out that there are important differences. Siegel and Schuster (was that his name?) created Superman on their own and then shopped him around to various newspaper syndicates before finally signing a deal with the precursor of DC. Superman was NOT work for hire. Kirby created most of his characters with his editor (Stan) specifically FOR Marvel. This case sounds more equivalent to Don Martin’s dispute with MAD than Siegel’s with DC.

@ Mary Warner:

I am not a lawyer, either. It was handled in a couple business law classes that I took, but copyright is a famously specialized area. So, we are all flailing around in the dark.

The reason that I tend to think the Siegel case (and the Shuster situation differs just enough that I am leaving it out) are those “contracts” on the back of the checks. If they are invalid, then it implies that Marvel knew there was no contractual relationship in place to establish work-for-hire. Despite Kirby working for Marvel at the time of the creation, the rights to his work were his. Like Siegel, he sold those rights very cheaply.

As a result of the 1978 changes in the copyright laws, there are still post 2017 rights to own and the Kirby heirs seem to have the right to re-claim them.

To be honest, Disney is a uniquely unsympathetic party here. The copyright laws exist in their present form in large measure to please the Mouse. Warners owned Superman for decades and, in my estimation, was a pretty good steward for the Superman property. The acrimony between those parties makes me sad. Conversely, Disney has owned Marvel for about 15 minutes. If they acquired the Fantastic Four without clearing up their rights situation, then it is almost funny.

They have some nerve to say that Kirby has anything to do with Spider-Man… Kirby drew the cover to Amazing Fantasy #15 (because he worked for Marvel and Stan told him to) and that´s just it!

FunkyGreenJerusalem

January 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

The Kirby family are raping our childhoods!

How dare that money hungry family try and take money from our favourite multi-billion dollar corporation!

This is what happens when you let socialists into the White House!

It’s really fairly baseless, but I figure the Kirby heirs are all “What the hell, maybe.”

You put everything you can think of in this sort of deal, and let the judge take it out.

Earthlink still exists?

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