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Jack Kirby Heirs Reclaim Marvel/Disney Rights 380

Posted by kdawson
from the more-movies-for-grownups dept.
lbalbalba writes "Heirs to comic book legend Jack Kirby sent 45 notices of copyright termination to Marvel Entertainment, prospective Marvel buyer Disney, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and others studios that that hold licensed media rights to Marvel characters. Some rights could revert to the heirs as soon as 2014, for characters that are among the hottest in Hollywood: The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, The Avengers, and others. Among other things the heirs' demand could cause problems for Disney's as yet unconsummated purchase of Marvel."
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Jack Kirby Heirs Reclaim Marvel/Disney Rights

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  • by the Atomic Rabbit (200041) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:02PM (#29497801)

    That was Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

  • Re:It's about time (Score:2, Informative)

    by NormHome (99305) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:06PM (#29497827)

    It has been a bone of contention for years that Jack Kirby was the real creative talent while Lee was just a great PR man. People who are in the know in the industry agree that Kirby got screwed big time, I'm just sorry that he never lived to see his creative work returned to him.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:16PM (#29497915)

    Yes. They pilfered the public domain. "To rape" means "to take from by force", as in "the Vikings raped the German coastline".

  • Re:It's about time (Score:5, Informative)

    by Idiomatick (976696) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:30PM (#29498043)
    Jack kirby died in 94 this only works out badly for us.
  • Re:It's about time (Score:5, Informative)

    by the Atomic Rabbit (200041) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:46PM (#29498187)

    Kirby did get shafted, but these claims about how "Jack did 90% of the work", casting Stan Lee as some kind of pointy-haired boss slash con artist, don't really stand up to scrutiny.

    For instance, Kirby played no role in the creation of Spider-man, Marvel's most iconic character. Yes, you could say that Stan Lee found someone else to rip off that one time, i.e. Steve Ditko. But the Spider-man comic's "canonical" period actually occurred after Ditko left (the Stan Lee/John Romita Sr era). So at some point you're left arguing that Stan Lee was incredibly lucky to find talent after talent after talent to rip off. It seems rather more likely that he made his own luck.

  • Annoying (Score:5, Informative)

    by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Monday September 21, 2009 @08:00PM (#29498317) Homepage

    The Kirby heirs are doing this pursuant to 17 USC 203, if anyone is interested.

    The gist of it is, for works not made for hire, where the author licensed or sold his copyrights to someone else (except via a will), the author, or his heirs or estate, can get together and terminate the license or sale. It has to be done within a certain window of time, and it requires a sufficient number of heirs to agree to it, and there are some procedural steps that have to be taken. And this can be done even if the author signed an agreement that expressly said that he would not do this.

    I am all for reforming copyrights to something sensible in both length and scope, and I am concerned at the political power wielded with regard to copyright by publishers. However, I have to side against the authors on this sort of thing. While it might be fun to see someone stick it to Disney, it's ultimately a bad policy.

    If an author willingly signs an agreement transferring or licensing his copyright to someone else, then that agreement should remain valid. If the author wants to reserve a right to terminate the transfer or license because some sort of condition arises (e.g. licensing fees are no longer being paid), or arbitrarily at some point in time, then it should be written into the agreement. No one is forcing authors to sign these things; no one is forcing authors not to have an attorney help them out with it. If a contract is one sided, don't sign it. Hash out a more agreeable agreement or walk away. And if your bargaining positions are unequal, well, welcome to the real world; this happens a lot.

    To have a law that mandates that authors can cancel their contracts at will, with no particular repercussions for them is offensively paternalistic. Authors should not be universally treated like children, able to escape their commitments. They are not any more or less sophisticated in their business dealings than any other ordinary person, who is not treated so astonishingly favorably by the law.

    Further, it is unjust. While an author certainly is essential in the success of a particular creative work, publishers also often make invaluable contributions. To the extent that their agreements with authors permit them to do so, I think it is completely fair for them to share greatly in the rewards. Publishers that contribute little will tend to not be in as favorable a position to benefit as the publishers that contribute a lot. Authors who don't want to have to pay or share profits with publishers can always self-publish. It is entirely doable, but the difficulty tends to be off-putting. So long as it is the decision of the parties involved, and not of Congress, it's okay.

    In this case, suppose that Kirby had never worked for a comic book company, but instead had started his career by self publishing comics. Would he have achieved so much success, thereby indicating that his estate deserves to profit from his comics and characters alone? I doubt it. So did Kirby, apparently; he chose not to go that route, and instead worked for publishers for whatever pay or other compensation both sides found agreeable.

    For the Kirby estate to wrest away control of the work Kirby did under contract with Marvel, in contravention of contracts willingly entered into by both sides that state otherwise, and with no other penalties is just not fair, and the law should not permit it. It is no different than if Alice sold land to Bob, Bob invested in the land raising its value, and then Alice snatched it back contrary to the original agreement.

    If you want to be able to end an agreement after you make it, make that part of the agreement. Otherwise, well, you'll know better next time.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Abreu (173023) on Monday September 21, 2009 @08:11PM (#29498427)

    Are you aware that Pixar and Disney recently merged?

  • Re:Misread Kirby (Score:2, Informative)

    by Lije Baley (88936) on Monday September 21, 2009 @08:17PM (#29498489)

    Yes.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:3, Informative)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <{ten.mocrie} {ta} {kaerfshtamevissesbo}> on Monday September 21, 2009 @09:06PM (#29498931) Homepage Journal

    In fact, I did a review on a collection of non-superhero comics today and was thoroughly impressed with the kinds of issues people are tackling out there with comic books

    The Japanese, and to a lesser extent East Asian, Manga industry has been doing things like this for decades. Issues from the topical to the seemingly unpresentable. Remember the manga guide to statistics [oreilly.com]. By contrast, the now stagnant meme of superheros has proven itself utterly unable to discuss any topic that does not somehow involve men in leotards fist fighting one another.

    The biggest problem with the western comic book industry is that it is not seen as a legitimate medium for adult discouse. It is not seen this way because publishers and writers deliberately market and censor their products for consumption by teenagers with their parents approval. The utter stagnancy of the American comic book industries is a testament to how successful this strategy has been in killing creativity. How many generations of artists have spent their lives drawing comics of characters invented by people 70 years ago?

    Comics are a very legitimate medium, and a very powerful one. When the 9-11 commission sought a way to present their mammoth 571 page report to the wider public, they turned to the medium of comic books. Some people had the gall to ridicule them, but it was an incredibly brave and shrewd decision. The graphic novel of the findings is a power educational tool against the inevitable 9-11 conspiracy theorists. It was, all things considered, the single best way to tell the story of that day.

    Comics are a medium of human communication. So is cartoon animation. The industrialisation of the comic book and animation industries in the Western world has robbed us of this medium. Because of the paranoia of 1950's American society, and the capitulation of the industry to hysteria like Comics Code Authority, the power of the medium comics, seen daily in newspapers across the country, is unable to be brought to bear in any arguments above the briefest of lengths. We are living with the bad decisions made by people 60 years ago and the effect of industry monopolisation and we are worse off because of it.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:4, Informative)

    by chartreuse (16508) on Monday September 21, 2009 @09:58PM (#29499337) Homepage

    Try reading Spiegelman's Maus, or Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell's From Hell, before you characterize all comics as not "real books". There's a whole world out there without superheroes in it.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:3, Informative)

    by BakaHoushi (786009) <Goss.Sean@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Monday September 21, 2009 @10:00PM (#29499353) Homepage

    Indeed they do. But Disney doesn't directly control what Pixar creates. They're more or less given total creative freedom.

    In this instance, Disney is really just a distributor, not a producer.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:3, Informative)

    by BakaHoushi (786009) <Goss.Sean@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Monday September 21, 2009 @10:02PM (#29499367) Homepage

    See what I said above:
    This is Disney being a distributor, not a producer. They're not over at Pixar/Ghibli telling them what to put in their movies, they just slap their names on the boxes, put out the ads, and ship them out.

  • Re:It's about time (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 21, 2009 @10:48PM (#29499721)

    True. Stan was a massive fountain of creativity, and it just so happened that Kirby was as well. There's plenty of credit to go around. Keep in mind that Kirby's attempts at DC and other places never caught on like his early Marvel days with Lee did; they both brought talents to the table.

    Also... the work done was clearly work for hire. Kirby knew it, Stan knew it. They designed a character, wrote a story, gave it to Marvel, and got a check. I find the idea that heirs can come along after the fact and, in effect, seize property from the rightful owners, as being quite troubling.

    (Posting anonymously because for some reason slashdot's 2.0 javascript is not letting me log in on this machine.)

  • by Xin Jing (1587107) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:21PM (#29499909)

    I have eliminated most of my commentary to present this analysis of Marvel motion pictures released since 2000. I mark that time period as the beginning of Marvel Entertainment's ability to bring characters and stories to life in a way they were never capable of before.

    1. X-Men (2000) - 80% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/xmen/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in July with a budget of US$75mil, it grossed more that US$296mil http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Men_film [wikipedia.org] without Arad and Lee on production.

    2. Spider-Man (2002) - 90% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/spiderman/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in May with a budget of US$140mil, it grossed more than US$821mil with Arad and Lee on production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-Man_(film) [wikipedia.org]

    3. Daredevil (2003) - 44% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/daredevil/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in February with a budget of US$78mil, it grossed more than US$179mil with Arad on production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daredevil_(film) [wikipedia.org]

    4. X2: X-Men United (2003) - 88% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/x2_xmen_united/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in May with a budget of US$110mil, it grossed more than US$407mil with Arad on production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X2:_X-Men_United [wikipedia.org]

    5. The Hulk (2003) - 61% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/hulk/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in June with a budget of US$137mil, it grossed more than US$245mil with Arad and Lee on production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hulk_(film) [wikipedia.org]

    6. The Punisher (2004) - 29% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1131721-punisher/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in April with a budget of US$15mil, it grossed more than US$54mil with Arad and Lee on production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Punisher_(2004_film) [wikipedia.org]

    7. Spider-Man 2 (2004) - 94% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/spiderman_2/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in June with a budget of US$200mil, it grossed more than US$783mil with Arad and Lee on production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-Man_2 [wikipedia.org]

    8. Electra (2005) - 10% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/elektra/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in January with a budget of US$43mil, it grossed more than US$56mil with Arad on production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elektra_(2005_film) [wikipedia.org]

    9. Fantastic Four (2005) - 26% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/fantastic_four/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in July with a budget of US$100mil, it grossed more than US$330mil with Arad on production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantastic_Four_(film) [wikipedia.org]

    10. X-Men The Last Stand (2006)- 56% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/x_men_3_the_last_stand/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in May with a budget of US$110mil, it grossed more than US$407mil with Arad on production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X2_(film) [wikipedia.org]

    11. Spider-Man 3 (2007) 62% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/spiderman_3/ [rottentomatoes.com]. Released in May with a budget of US$258mil, it grossed more than US$890mil with Arad and Lee on production. http://en.wikip [wikipedia.org]

  • by Xin Jing (1587107) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:28PM (#29499961)

    - 6 out of 15 films had budgets of US$100 or less. Out of those 6 films, all were first installments.

    That should have read "... had budgets of US$100mil or less..."

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:2, Informative)

    by TheoMurpse (729043) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:36PM (#29499997) Homepage

    Phenomenon. Phenomenon. Phenomenon is singular, phenomena is plural.

    Thank you, that is all.

    *smells karma burning*

  • by princessproton (1362559) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @12:07AM (#29500219)

    Here, let me google that for you. [lmgtfy.com] Yes, there are taxes, just like any other kind of property. The first two links in the search above give a good overview of these issues.

  • Re:It's about time (Score:3, Informative)

    by julesh (229690) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @03:33AM (#29501253)

    Also... the work done was clearly work for hire. Kirby knew it, Stan knew it.

    Doesn't matter. Since 1978, part of the deal in work-for-hire arrangements is that the creator gets to take the rights back if they want them (relevant legislation) [copyright.gov]. Being creative industry professionals, I'm sure both Kirby and Lee knew this, as well.

    We'll start to see some interesting things happening in 2013 when the window for making those claims opens, I'm sure.

  • Re:It's about time (Score:3, Informative)

    by julesh (229690) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:04AM (#29502319)

    Where do you get that from the legislation? The section you quote starts out:

    In the case of any work other than a work made for hire...

    It seems works for hire are not subject to transfer, which makes sense since you purchased the work, not licensed the rights to it.

    Yeah, sorry, terminology slip due to the fact that the OP was using the term loosely. This wasn't work for hire; Kirby was a freelancer who sold the rights to Marvel.

  • Not Re:Bullshit (Score:3, Informative)

    by objekt (232270) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @09:42AM (#29503175) Homepage

    Kirby was involved in the creation of both Spider-Man and Iron Man. Yes, Steve Ditko redesigned the character that Kirby created and drew the character's first stories. Don Heck drew the first story appearance of Iron Man because Jack couldn't draw everything. Kirby, interestingly enough, drew the covers for both first appearances of Spider-Man and Iron Man.

    This is all well documented with citations on wikipedia.

    Joe Simon also had a hand in creating Spider-Man. If you want to go back far enough, there's a pulp character called The Spider that one could argue was partial inspiration for Spider-Man.

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