OK, this one is for you law aficionados.
Comic book artist, writer and editor Jack Kirby is a name almost every nerd is familiar with. Alongside Stan Lee, he was the co-creator for some of the biggest names in the industry. The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, the Hulk. He even helped create Captain America with Joe Simon. After his passing in 1994 the heirs of Kirby estate served notices of termination to Walt Disney Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Sony Pictures to attempt to regain control of various Silver Age Marvel characters. However, in mid-March 2010 Kirby’s estate also ”sued Marvel to terminate copyrights and gain profits from Jack’s comic creations.”
A New York federal judge ruled today that the heirs of the late Jack Kirby have no legal claim to the copyrights of any of those characters. Judge Colleen McMahon issued a 50-page decision stating that regardless of whether Kirby was the creator or co-creator of said work (which he was), she determined his labors were performed as work-for-hire under the provisions of the Copyright Act of 1909. What this means to us that don’t understand legal mumbo-jumbo- it translates to Marvel owns the rights to the creations, not the artist themselves.
From McMahon’s decision:
“At the outset, it is important to state what this motion is not about. Contrary to recent press accounts [including two pieces in the New York Times], this case is not about whether Jack Kirby or Stan Lee is the real ‘creator’ of Marvel characters, or whether Kirby (and other freelance artists who created culturally iconic comic book characters for Marvel and other publishers) were treated ‘fairly’ by companies that grew rich off the fruit of their labor. It is about whether Kirby’s work qualifies as work-for-hire under the Copyright Act of 1909, as interpreted by the courts, notably the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. If it does, then Marvel owns the copyright in the Kirby Works, whether that is ‘fair’ or not. If it does not, then the Kirby Heirs have a statutory right to take back those copyrights, no matter the impact on recent corporate acquisition or on earnings from blockbuster movies made and yet to be made.”
As to wether or not the Kirbys will appeal the decision, PC attorney Brendan McFeely believes it’s very likely that they will. In speaking with Comics Alliance he gave his input on this case:
“The Kirby heirs were obligated to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Kirby’s Marvel work was not work-for-hire, and despite martialling the support of several industry experts, they were unable to do so. It seems likely that much of the Kirbys’ evidentiary submissions actually undercut their case, based on the Court’s dissection of the evidence in the ruling. The Court essentially had no option but to rule in favor of Marvel.”
Via: Comics Alliance