If your a Marvel fan, and laugh with glee every time you hear the next chapter in the Siegel/Warner Bros. lawsuit, then that grin may quickly fade after news that the Jack Kirby estate has served notice to Marvel, Disney, Sony, Universal, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount Pictures, that it is terminating copyright.

It all boils down the Kirby estate trying to regain the rights of the characters Kirby created (a very extensive list that includes Captain America, The Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, The Silver Surfer, and Thor, among others) and make money off someone. If the suit is successful, everything would hit the fan in 2014, when Kirby would own the copyright, but Marvel/Disney would own any trademarks.

Interestingly, the same law firm that represents the Siegel estate, Toberoff & Associates, is also representing the Kirby estate.  Now sounds like a good time to be a dead creator that has a family looking to score big of changes in company structure and copyright law.

What will be the upshot of all of this?  Millions spent in the courtroom trying to settle this argument, with the estate walking away with millions more, and the publisher still producing comic books feature the characters in question.

UPDATE: Here is Marvel’s official statement on the termination notice.

“Marvel received the termination notices and is reviewing the information and has no additional comment at this time.”

Yikes.  Sounds like it took them by surprise.

via Super Hero Hype

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  1. Hardman
    September 21, 2009 at 11:57 am — Reply

    Has Bob Kane’s family gone after the rights to Batman yet? That character was created in 1939, only a year after Superman.

  2. SkrullBryan
    September 21, 2009 at 12:13 pm — Reply

    Marvel’s secret weapon… Stan Lee!!! He can testify that he created everyone and everything in the Marvel Universe.

  3. morpheus
    September 21, 2009 at 12:14 pm — Reply

    The question is how does this involve Stan Lee. Didn’t he have a hand in creating some of these too?

    • Rick
      September 21, 2009 at 4:44 pm — Reply

      Depends on the characters in question some were Stan and Jack but others like Cap were just Jack

      • ykw
        September 21, 2009 at 9:22 pm — Reply

        Cap was reportedly all Joe Simon. S&K weren’t even working together yet when Joe conceived the character.

  4. Navarre
    September 21, 2009 at 12:29 pm — Reply

    I hope Johannes Gutenberg’s family sues everyone for about 20 octillion dollars for using his printing press technology to make books.

  5. Dean
    September 21, 2009 at 1:49 pm — Reply

    This has the potential to make the Siegel-Warner dispute look minor.

    With regard to Stan Lee, he would have the right to perhaps half of those characters and nothing when it comes to Captain America. Joe Simon co-created Cap with Kirby before Marvel was even called Marvel.

    Given how Marvel worked at the time, it is possible that the Stan Lee portion was less than 50%. The first written work product would be Kirby’s pencils. Even then, there is no reason that Stan Lee himself couldn’t serve notice of termination to Marvel.

  6. ykw
    September 21, 2009 at 2:19 pm — Reply

    Stan gets a seven-figure annual pension and a meaningless corporate title in exchange for having waived his rights to reclaim any characters he created at Marvel many years ago. Only Kirby’s share of the 1960s characters is at issue.

  7. Gaumer
    September 21, 2009 at 2:28 pm — Reply

    Disney own these character now, and they ain’t letting anything go and they have huge deep full pockets :)

    • September 21, 2009 at 4:42 pm — Reply

      Disney doesn’t own anything yet, they have to go through the formal shareholder vote, plus SEC filing stuff. The acquisition isn’t expected to be finished until the end of the year. If the Kirby deal has real teeth, it could be a problem as Disney made the purchase plans with the express understanding the characters would be part of the deal.

  8. The Eye-Roller formerly known as Lass
    September 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm — Reply

    As soon as we got to call Tom Welling “Superboy” again… Is it possible we’re going through the whole name thing all over again in bulk?
    Yaaa, indeed.

  9. Jim
    September 21, 2009 at 7:30 pm — Reply

    It’s funny, I just finished Mark Evanier’s art book on Kirby (which is excellent, by the way). Based on that, I think the Kirby family will have a hard time winning this. As great of an artist as he was, Kirby wasn’t a shrewd businessman. He thought he would get taken care of if he did good work (which he wasn’t, for the most part). It didn’t sound like there was much documentation on character creation. Also, keep in mind that Stan Lee was employing the “Marvel Method” of story and character creation, so it would be pretty difficult to prove whether Lee or Kirby had created the Hulk, FF, X-Men or even Silver Surfer (which seems likely to have been a sole Kirby creation but can’t really be proven). Complicating matters is that both Lee and Kirby seem to exaggerate their own input so it seems like it would be very difficult to prove how much Kirby’s family can prove. Also, how would this be different from Ditko on Spider-Man (which Kirby also claimed to create, even though it’s pretty clear he didn’t)? Or Dave Cockrum with “all-new” X-Men, or even someone like Venom? Doesn’t Marvel own all of these character by default?

    I wonder how this affects Kirby’s Fourth World stuff at DC….

    • September 21, 2009 at 9:34 pm — Reply

      Jim Said: I wonder how this affects Kirby’s Fourth World stuff at DC….

      Then I Said: DC didn’t recently get purchased for $4 billion.

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Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment.

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