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

    by WillyWanker (1502057) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:00PM (#29497787)
    Lee and Marvel shafted Jack big time during the 60s. Jack did 90% of the work while Stan took 90% of the credit. It's about time he gets the recognition and money he deserves. Too bad he didn't live to see it. I had the pleasure of meeting him once, he was a lovely, soft spoken man.
  • At what cost? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MicktheMech (697533) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:01PM (#29497799) Homepage
    Neither the summary nor the article (I know...) mention what it's going to cost the heirs to get the rights back. TFA states that they can regain control a certain period after the grant of rights had been made, but is this just a normal end of the contract or do they have to buy it back? In the article Disney is quoted as saying they knew this was coming, so I'm guessing this is just the normal end whatever contract the film companies had to license the characters. Are there any IP lawyers who could shed some light on this?
  • by painandgreed (692585) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:06PM (#29497829)
    If anything will get the length of copyright reduced back to reasonable levels, it'll be creators reclaiming their IP from big business. Then it'll enter into public domain and big business will probably just settle it via trademark legislation as they divide up public domain.
  • Good luck, kids! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Peganthyrus (713645) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:08PM (#29497853) Homepage

    Well. This should be interesting.

    I wonder what Kirby's kids will do with the licensing money for the Kirby co-creations that've become major movie franchises if they win this. It'd be nice to hope that they use a little of it to create a non-profit that helps fund innovation in comics like Eastman did after he ran out of things to spend his TMNT money on; Jack was an amazing fountain of ideas and I think that'd be a great way to honor his memory.

  • GOOD FOR THEM. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) < minus author> on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:12PM (#29497875)

    I really hope this forces Marvel to rethink their strategy. I love comics. I don't like super hero books. Super hero books that run for hundreds of issues with no coherent message or vision suck. I don't care if the current run is good, or if it used to be good years or even a few issues ago. Marvel needs to get back to it's roots selling comics that everyone wants to read, not just 30 something fanboys who obsess over whether or not Kevin Smith did justice to the Green Arrow.

  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:29PM (#29498035)

    Oh, my. I remember lawsuits involving Jack Kirby and Marvel of the 1980's, when he was still alive.

    For those of you who've not made friends with authors and artists, it's very common for companies to really screw the authors who create their most valuable intellectual properties. For any of us who've worked on a major software or hardware project and had it dropped by a VP whose goals it doesn't fit, or have a mediocre middle manager take credit for it, you can sympathize with what happens to these artists.

    This doesn't mean that Jack's heirs have a real case, but be aware that Marvel and Jack had some serious disagreements about intellectual property and artwork ownership during his lifetime, and a lot of artists believed that Jack was screwed, really hard, by Marvel's last generations of leadership during his life.

  • Re:At what cost? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by langelgjm (860756) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:31PM (#29498057) Journal

    IIRC from my IP law class, when you sell a copyright to someone, there is a certain point where you can decide to take back control. I don't remember the exact details off the top of my head, but it's statutory. A quick glance here [] looks to be from 30 to 35 years into the license, but copyright math depends on a lot of factors, e.g. when the work was originally registered.

    Also IIRC this was originally instituted as a statutory way to prevent publishers from forcing authors to turn over all their copyright rights - by building in a statutory exception giving the author a window of time when they could take control back, publishers wouldn't strike such hard bargains.

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday September 21, 2009 @08:01PM (#29498331)

    So? What's the point of building an estate if you can't pass it to your children?

    Intellectual work is not part of an estate. It does not diminish if shared, it is often built on the work that others have shared freely and, in the case of entertainment, is what it is because of its audience.

    If you want to leave behind an estate, make money and pass that on. To consider intellectual works part of an estate diminishes human capital and is an insult to those who created it - for it means that achievements can be appropriated by those who had no part in it.

  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Monday September 21, 2009 @09:17PM (#29499019) Journal

    You jest, but the RCA Corporation did *exactly* that in the 1930s with FM Radio. They were afraid it would kill their dominance in the AM market so they kept the FM intellectual property under wraps for as long as possible. And when the actual inventor tried to develop FM independently, they sued him again-and-again until he was a broken man. Not until he died did RCA bring FM to the marketplace.

    Never underestimate corporate deviousness. It's as bad as government, minus the ability to send you to the jail, or suck money from your wallet.

  • Re:Inheritance (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 21, 2009 @09:39PM (#29499193)

    his property

    And yet, all that's being discussed is imaginary property anyway...

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 21, 2009 @09:40PM (#29499205)

    And Kirby's solo-creations also weren't that big of a success.

    Who outside of comics has heard of the New Gods, for instance?

    Kirby only had true success when he worked with Stan Lee. Stan Lee, for all his faults, managed to bring out the very best in Kirby, and they created magic. None of that magic was in Kirby's post-Lee work.

  • by wes33 (698200) on Monday September 21, 2009 @10:14PM (#29499445)

    "Too bad your analogy sucks in 18 different ways. First, a brick wall doesn't continually generate money. Copyrighted works do, as long as there are customers to buy them"

    only because they are *copyrighted* - if walls had the same protection
    they would generate revenue forever too (cause walls are damn useful)

    this is circular reasoning not criticism

  • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Monday September 21, 2009 @10:39PM (#29499643) Homepage

    the very basis of copyright in the United States is encouragement of innovation.

    Well, that's half anyway; really the basis of copyright is encouraging authors to create and publish the most, in exchange for the least copyright, so as to maximize the net public benefit. Both creation and publication are necessary elements of good copyright policy. A work cannot benefit the public unless it is both created, just so it exists, and published, so that people beyond the author can actually get and use it.

    When an author has created a work that they sell after the fact, however, they absorbed a considerable amount of the risk by taking the time to create something without any pay at all. ... But when they come up with something marketable, suddenly publishers want control.

    Well sure. The authors are self-interested; having created a work, they want the benefits that a professional publisher can bring to the table -- inexpensive printing in bulk, good marketing, arrangements with lots of retail operations to get the work out to the public -- without wanting to cede the rewards that the work can bring them.

    And likewise, the publishers are self-interested, perhaps being able to obtain a good work without having incurred any risk in its creation (though this is not always so; the recording industry has some interesting financial practices) they'll want to invest as little as possible into getting it into the marketplace, but get as much of a reward from this as possible.

    No one can force the two parties to make an agreement they don't find acceptable. And there are plenty of authors out there. And plenty -- though somewhat fewer -- publishers. And there is the option to self-publish.

    So while each side goes into negotiations seeking to get the best deal for themselves, mutually agreeable deals are entirely possible, with plenty of alternatives if it doesn't work out.

    I don't see a problem with any of this.

    Unfortunately, a lot of other IP industries have yet to catch on that creators should be treated well.

    Creators should not be treated well merely because they are creators. Certainly it is not in the interests of any publisher to treat artists one iota better than the bare minimum they can get away with. A generous publisher runs a risk of being a badly run business, which leads to being an ex-publisher. Of course, I'm not saying that the publisher should go about whipping its authors, just that once an author worth keeping happy is made happy, it isn't necessary to make him any happier. There's no percentage in that. A publisher who wastes his resources doing that will be at a disadvantage in the marketplace, and either go out of business, or have to stop being so nice.

    Anyway, the ability to take back a work that was not made for hire, but has instead been licensed, is not about deal-breaking. It is about preventing companies from taking a disproportionate share of the profits from the owner, who is the person we intended to incentivize.

    It is about nothing other than deal-breaking.

    The author was incentivized to create the work, because he did in fact create the work. The Constitution mandates that the copyright initially vest in the author. What the author decides to do with it after that point is entirely up to him. If he sells it for a mess of pottage, then that's his mistake.

    But if a property becomes massively successful, why should a bunch of managers and lawyers who probably weren't even born when the property was created be entitled to perpetual profits?

    Because the author apparently misjudged the value of his copyright. He should've held out for more. The publisher apparently was the wiser party to the agreement. But it was a voluntary agreement. No one twisted the arm of the author. He was happy enough with the deal to sign on the dotted line. Hindsight is no excuse for breaking the deal without consequences.

    Remember also that the mere creation of a work isn't the only

  • by lennier (44736) on Monday September 21, 2009 @10:53PM (#29499755) Homepage

    "First, a brick wall doesn't continually generate money."

    Neither does a copyrighted work - it *transfers* money from one person to another. The total amount of money in the cosmos remains constant. Actually, since the transaction itself imposes a processing cost, I'd say money was lost to entropy.

    Now, bank loans - those do generate money, for some definition of 'money'. They also destroy money when the loans come due, apparently.

    But perhaps you were thinking about generating *wealth* rather than merely reallocating money? I'd say the most obvious thing that does that is living biomass - food and medicine. But shelter for sentient beings would have to come a close second.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PopeGumby (1125507) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:55PM (#29500109)

    But then, are they TAKING things from the Public Domain, or are they taking steps to PREVENT things from moving to the public domain? Has there been any examples of things that moved into public domain, but then retroactively became private again after legislation changes?

    Cos if they're just preventing things from going into public domain, then thats not the same as taking things from the public domain.

    If we're going to argue semantics, that is.

  • Re:Wow! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hal_Porter (817932) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @03:02AM (#29501131)

    I don't think there's anything stopping you from mounting your own take on, say, on Snow White or Cinderella. The problem is that Disney managed to get something of a stranglehold on the imagery.

    I can't stand most of the stuff Disney puts out either, but isn't this a fairly big point. Disney own copyright on the characters and the art work, not on the story. Actually there are a two or three movies a year that rehash, remix or reset Snow White and Cinderella. No one has to pay Disney to make those.

    And if they Disney versions are so saccharine as we both agree, what does it matter if they own the imagery? Remember even if they do, parody is fair use. It seems to me inconsistent to say that something is devoid of merit and the problem is that people are not allowed to copy it.

    In fact it reminds me of the joke "The restaurant was bad. The food was vile -and the portions were too small"

    Incidentally much of the debate on copyright here seems to fall into this trap. To be brutally honest there are two types of culture. One is hyped by a multinational like Disney. It is popular for a short time during which its corporate owner will jealously guard rights to it. After that it will likely disappear without trace. Basically this is pump'n'dump applied to culture.

    There's another sort of culture, classical music and literature, decent paintings and the like that is hyped by no one and owned by no one. The only reason people still talk about it is because it is good. Actually most culture is not pump and dump culture - it's just that the media concentrates on hyping ephemera because people pay them to do so.

    Now the problem here is that people complain like mad about the pump'n'dump form of culture being awful and they're right. Still if it is so awful, why does it bother you so much that it is not in the public domain? Why not just ignore it completely?

  • Re:Inheritance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by religious freak (1005821) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @03:19AM (#29501201)
    Class envy and flamebait? No. I wrote this, because it's my belief having a permanent aristocracy is poison to a country and not in anyone's best interest, and large scale inheritances perpetuate a permanent upper class. I was writing in a general sense, referencing this specific issue - I guess folks interpreted this as flamebait. Oh well.

    On a macro-level, capitalism allocates the resources to those who deserve them (i.e. if you're good at business, you make more money, which you then can put back into your business). But there needs to be a way society can collect payment for the infrastructure which allowed for the business success in the first place. The most efficient way to collect the needed funds is to keep those that know how to allocate capital with low taxes, so they can go on and efficiently allocate capital (i.e. low taxes for businesses), but society still needs to pay for the items which made this success possible. The most efficient and sensible way to do that, in my view, is to heavily tax inheritance.
  • by silverspell (1556765) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @11:21AM (#29504511)
    Your question assumes that "one of the women in [his] life" would have sufficient expertise to speak about Disney's copyright tactics. Yet there's no evidence that that's the case, given that most people lack that expertise.

    It also assumes that only rape victims have the moral standing and experience necessary to compare things to rape. If the analogy were murder, rather than rape, would you argue that only murder victims should be allowed to speak?

    I suppose one could argue that the only person who could evaluate the comparison would be a person (most likely female) who's both a copyright lawyer and a rape victim. No doubt, several of those people exist. Yet even so, this hypothetical person can't speak for all of us, since in forcing the Sonny Bono act et al. upon us, Disney's actions victimize the collective, not just the individual.

    No one person can directly articulate the effect those actions have had on public discourse. OTOH, I'm guessing a decent number of people have landed in jail or prison, at least in part because of those laws. Given the state of the U.S. penal system, a few of those inmates have probably been raped, in the most literal sense. Would you speak for them as well?

    In other words, you're being every bit as reductive and offensive as the OP (if not more so), and your righteous indignation is both misplaced and of no real help to rape victims, real or hypothetical.
  • Re:Still Wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @01:51PM (#29506583) Homepage

    Specifically, he says that securing publication is "half" the reason we have a copyright system in the first place. So I'll say it again: you don't have to publish at all to secure a copyright (as distinguished from patent law), so that must not be "half" the reason we have copyright.

    First, I said that encouraging creation and publication was half the reason. The other half of the rationale of copyright is to have as little copyright as possible, if any at all. So I guess that encouraging publication would be more like one quarter.

    Second, I think you're assuming that the current Copyright Act is synonymous with good copyright policy. I'd disagree. I've already discussed my reasoning for this in a recent reply post.

    A better Copyright Act would grant a provisional right for unpublished but unabandoned works upon creation, so that an author who seeks to publish is not beaten to the punch by someone who has gained access to the manuscript. However, should an author abandon his work unpublished, the work should enter the public domain rapidly in the hopes that someone will do what the author did not, and get that work to the public.

    Note that pre-1978 US copyright law only granted protection to registered, published works. Publication was key. But if an author was willing to publish without registering, then he got no copyright. This was appropriate since copyright was meant to encourage creation and publication that otherwise would not occur. An author who would publish without registration apparently needed no encouragement in the form of copyright, so he didn't get one.

    This is the sort of thing we need to get back to.

    I happen to believe that people will often create without any incentive at all--forgetting this leads to all sorts of strange interpretations of copyright law. The law wasn't made because without it, no one would create. The law was made to incentivize creation, so that it would happen more often. So anything that makes it happen less often would be against Constitutional policy, regardless of whether creation would stop altogether.

    Well, I wouldn't say without any incentive at all. There are many 'natural' incentives to create and publish. Some people want to be famous. Some people create art for art's sake. Some people want to make money, but manage to do so in ways that don't involve copyrights (e.g. selling specific copies, taking commissions, providing artistic labor, patronage, etc.). In the case of this discussion, we are all writing copyrightable posts, but I sincerely doubt that any of us would not have written, online discussions even if there were no such thing as copyright at all.

    Copyright is just an additional incentive, so regarding it being meant to get creation to happen more often, I agree with you. But that's not enough. We don't merely want creation to happen more often. We want works to be created and published more than they would be otherwise, since a created but unpublished work is of little value to the public. And we want that work to be in the public domain as soon as possible, since any given work is more valuable to the public when in the public domain, than when copyrighted. And we want the copyright to be as minimal in scope as possible, while still acting as an incentive, since more freedom for the public is better than less.

    Merely maximizing creation and ignoring the rest would be bad policy.

    So while one copyright law might encourage less creation than another, that's not the only basis on which to judge them. It is entirely possible that a copyright act in which there was, oh, 90% as much creation as we currently have, but which had drastically shorter terms, a greater rate of publication of created works, more freedom for the public, etc. could easily be superior to what's on the books today.

    He is free to assert that the law is a bad idea, but his position that it is bad because it somehow violates basic contract principles is simply untenable. There are so many laws on the books inv

A penny saved is a penny to squander. -- Ambrose Bierce