×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Marvel, Jack Kirby Heirs Settle Dispute Over Superhero Rights

The family of Jack Kirby and Marvel Entertainment have resolved a long-running legal dispute over the rights to some of the most popular characters in Marvel’s library, including “Spider-Man” and “X-Men.”

“Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes, and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honoring Mr. Kirby’s significant role in Marvel’s history,” the litigants announced in a joint statement on Friday.

The family had been seeking Supreme Court review of their appeal of lower court rulings that largely sided with Marvel.

Kirby’s heirs had sought to terminate grants of copyrights to the characters, under a clause of the 1976 Copyright Act, but Marvel contended that they continued to own the characters because Kirby was working “for hire.” The latter is an exception to artists and families who seek to terminate grants of copyrights.

After the Kirby heirs sent out 45 notices in 2009 seeking to terminate the assignment of copyrights in comics featuring works like “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Avengers” and “The Fantastic Four,” Marvel sued, seeking a court determination that Kirby’s work on the characters was “for hire.” The litigation concered a total of 262 works published between 1958 and 1963.

A federal court sided with Marvel in 2011, and an appellate court upheld the determination that Kirby’s work was “for hire.”

The family, represented by Marc Toberoff, had been seeking Supreme Court review, and the high court was set to consider whether to take it at its conference on Monday. Their writ of certiorari  had drawn the support of organizations like SAG-AFTRA, which argued that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decision in favor of Marvel created “an onerous, nearly insurmountable presumption that copyright ownership vests in a commissioning party as a work made for hire, rather than in the work’s creator.” Bruce Lehman, former director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, also weighed in in favor of the Kirby heirs, arguing that the law in the late 50s and early 60s was that the definition of a work made “for hire” applied only to traditional employees and not freelancers.

Marvel, however, argued that Kirby’s contributions to the works were made at Marvel’s instance, under the editorial and stylistic direction of its editor at the time, Stan Lee.

If the Supreme Court had taken the case, it would have had tremendous implications not just for Marvel, a unit of the Walt Disney Co., but DC Comics as well, as it put into question the definition of what constituted works made “for hire” during the golden age of comics in the 1950s.

 

More Biz

  • Def Jam Logo

    Layoffs at Def Jam Records

    Def Jam Records laid off several employees this week, including executive VP of brand strategy and content Noah Callahan-Bever and OJ Lima, senior VP in that department, a source close to the situation has confirmed to Variety. A total of seven employees let go, a number that includes regional promotion staffers not based in New [...]

  • The Story of Erroll Garner, the First

    The True Story of Erroll Garner, the First Artist to Sue a Major Label and Win

    It’s not at all unusual for artists to engage in creative or financial differences with their record labels, but only a few end up in court. Last year, Kanye West sued his label, Universal, and publisher, EMI, claiming that his deals amounted to “servitude” (the EMI suit was settled in September), echoing Prince’s famous battle [...]

  • Peter Gray

    Columbia Records Names Peter Gray Executive VP/ Head of Promotion

    Peter Gray, who stepped down as Warner Bros. Records’ executive VP/GM and head of radio promotion last year, is joining Columbia Records as the label’s EVP and head of promotion, sources tell Variety. He fills the role vacated by Lee Leipsner, who left the company in March. Gray’s appointment is the latest in a series [...]

  • U2, Seattle 14 May 2017

    U2 Drop New Song, ‘Ahimsa,’ Ahead of First Concert in India

    After a flurry of rumors on Thursday, U2 dropped their first single in two years: “Ahimsa,” a collaboration with Oscar- and Grammy-winning Indian musician AR Rahman, ahead of the group’s first-ever visit to the country next month. Rahman has a vast track record of film soundtracks and is best known for his work on the [...]

  • Sean "Diddy" Combs Revolt TV

    Sean Combs Slams 'Illusion of Economic Inclusion' at Comcast Amid Byron Allen Fight

    Sean Combs has come out swinging against Comcast in a lengthy statement prompted by the cable giant’s legal battle with Entertainment Studios chief Byron Allen. Combs accused Comcast of maintaining “the illusion of economic inclusion” in its handling of a carriage agreement with Combs’ Revolt TV channel. Combs was critical of Comcast for failing to [...]

  • Bon Iver Justin Vernon Grammys

    Bon Iver, Tanya Tucker, Thom Yorke Lead Indie Labels to 44% of Grammy Nominations

    Ever since Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” won Album of the Year at the 2011 Grammy Awards, independent labels have seen their star rise on “Music’s Biggest Night,” and that looks set to continue at the 2020 ceremony, where Bon Iver, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Yola, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Elvis Costello and others have gotten big [...]

  • US Capitol

    Congress Introduces AM-FM Act to Revise Copyright Law for Terrestrial Radio

    Senator Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Jerrold Nadler today introduced the Ask Musicians for Music Act (AM-FM), which aims to revise existing copyright law for radio stations and musicians. Under the current copyright system, radio stations can use sound recordings over their airwaves without paying royalties to creators who own a stake in the sound recordings. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content