The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make a decision soon on whether it will hear a dispute between Marvel and the heirs of comic book legend Jack Kirby in a case that could impact the ownership of major Marvel-Disney properties including Captain America, Iron Man, and other characters.
Backed by some of Hollywood's most powerful creative guilds, this dispute revolves around Kirby’s key contribution to some of Marvel’s biggest properties and the 1976 Copyright Act. While the 1976 Copyright Act extended the terms of copyright, it also crafted a termination provision that was meant to give authors the opportunity to reclaim their properties in the latter years of a copyright term. This was seen as a compromise: On one hand, the copyright terms were longer, but authors also had the chance to earn back their properties at a later date in case they had sold their rights when they were new to the industry and lacked bargaining power.
The situation grows complex in the Kirby case when it comes to the artist’s official contribution to the popular Marvel properties. Although Kirby co-created many of the characters and superheroes, Kirby has been deemed a “work for hire” who created “commissioned work” for statutory author Marvel. That means that Kirby, who passed away in 1994, never had any termination rights under the 1976 Copyright Act.
But Kirby’s designation as a freelance worker is now under attack in what could impact the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case after courts had previously denied efforts to terminate copyright grants.
Important figures who have already pushed for the Supreme Court to hear the case include Bruce Lehman, the former U.S. Patent and Trademark Office director and chief adviser to President Bill Clinton on intellectual property rights; Ralph Oman, the chief minority counsel of the Senate’s IP subcommittee at the time of the 1976 Copyright Act’s consideration; the Artist’s Rights Society; the International Intellectual Property Institute; and several others. And now, SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, and the WGA will join the fight in what they call a “critically important case.”
With the possibility that Marvel could lose the rights to [The Fantastic Four](movie:34667), Silver Surfer, Hulk and many other major characters. Where would that leave the comic book world and the MCU?
Let me know in usual spot!