Deadline Hollywood revealed yesterday that the Federal Court for the Southern District Of New York has granted summary judgements asked for by Marvel and denied the Jack Kirby Estate’s cross request for summary judgements in their lawsuit against many rights holders of Kirby co-creations. What this means, basically, that the courts say that Kirby’s work for Marvel was “work-for-hire” (Marvel’s claim) and therefore the Kirby estate has no right to terminate their copyright (The estate’s claim was that they could).
As we reported here back in 2009, The Kirby Estate sent notices of copyright termination to 45 entities, including Marvel, Disney, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount Pictures. Since most of Marvel’s film output was co-created Kirby(Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, The Silver Surfer, Black Panther and Thor), this would have put Marvel’s successful run at the box office in jeopardy.
Marc Toberoff, the lawyer who successful represented the Siegel Estate in a similar claim, states he will appeal the ruling to the Second Circuit, so the issue isn’t completely over.
I’m not a lawyer, but if I had to come up with a reason why the Siegel lawsuit succeeded and Kirby lawsuit did not, it would have to do with when the characters were created. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman prior to their involvement with DC Comics (they originally tried to approach newspaper syndicates to get a comic strip starring the character in newspapers everywhere), so they did not create the character while working of DC Comics. Jack Kirby, on the other hand, co-created all those characters after being an employee for Atlas/Marvel for three or more years, and a lot of the work was done in conjunction with Atlas/Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee. Any work he did on those characters was as an employee of Marvel at the request of or with the direct input of its editor-in-chief. That’s just my opinion, and probably a wrong one at that.
More to come.