September 28, 2009

Kirby’s Heirs Seeking Copyrights

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Written by: Eli
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In recent years DC Comics faced some copyright issues over Superman. Now it’s Marvels turn, as earlier this month Jack Kirby’s children sent out 45 notices of copyright termination to several companies who hold the rights to characters their father helped create. Kirby, who died in 1994, left four children who’re bringing this legal action. Recipients of the notices include Marvel, Disney (making a play to purchase Marvel), 20th Century Fox (owns movie rights to the Fantastic Four & X-Men), Sony Pictures (movie rights to Spider-Man), Universal Pictures (movie rights to Hulk), and Paramount Pictures.


Kirby, along with Stan Lee, co-created several of our favorite Marvel characters. Whereas all of the properties being sought weren’t named, we know that Kirby contributed to the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, X-Men, the Avengers, the Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, the Inhumans, the Watcher, Galactus, Spider-Man, and many more.

These copyrights only last for so long. The creators, or their heirs, can ask for a copyright that had been held by a company to be returned after a period of 56 years from the date of original publication. Even if the heirs get the copyrights back, they cannot hang on to them forever. If, after the 56 year period, the children get their father’s share of the rights to these characters, they only have them for another 39 years. Then they become public domain. That’ll be interesting, I’m sure. For example, Kirby’s rights to the Fantastic Four would be open for his children to claim in 2017, the Hulk in 2018, and the X-Men in 2019. Then they’d have 39 years to hold onto them, and perhaps resell them, or gain a share of the profit from the licensing deals.

If these claims are challenged, a determination will have to be made as to what role Kirby played in the creation of these characters. Lee and a few others are still around who would be of help clearing up any disagreements, although it probably won’t be an easy road.

I wonder what they’ll do with the rights if they get them?




  1. InfiniteSpeech

    It would be interesting to see what they plan on doing with the character rights if they get them…hopefully this thing doesn’t get ugly and silly on both parts

    Are they only seeking characters with current or future movie deals? Didn’t he create some characters for DC as well or was that before it was “DC”

  2. Well, I sure hope they get the rights to them…god knows Kirby deserves a lot more than he got in life.

  3. Eli

    As far as I know, he has several creations that DC does in fact own. I think he went over to DC in the early 1970s.

  4. Kristin

    How does that affect the industry? I’m a little fuzzy on copyright laws. If they get the rights, does that mean Marvel and whoever can no longer use those characters unless they license them back?

  5. Marie

    This kinda stuff just makes me ill. I understand having rights but if you work for a company they usually own the material unless you have a contract stating different. I just hope everything works out.

  6. InfiniteSpeech

    @ Kristin…maybe marvel would have to come out of pocket to use the characters from then on if the characters revert back to the Kirbys

  7. I’m really interested to see how this all pans out.

  8. Tom

    @InfiniteSpeech… Kirby created the New Gods, Kamandi, OMAC, and the second Sandman for DC, among others. They probably weren’t listed in the suit because they’re less than 40 years old.

    I think these copyright battles are mostly for the money. These properties are worth millions in licensing fees alone. It’s doubtful they’d try to shop them around to another company. The properties would lose a ton of value, plus it would open a whole other can of worms untangling the copyrights to disengage them. For Example, Kirby helped create the X-Men, but that would only include the X-Men name, the original five, the original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and a few others but wouldn’t include any of the “New” X-Men or most of today’s lineup. No large company (i.e. DC) would touch them due to the legal hassles (and threats of revenge from Marvel — after all, Superman’s going through a similar situation), and a smaller company wouldn’t be able to parlay them into as much money as they bring in now. They’d be killing the cash cow! Most likely, they’ll want a chunk of revenue for the rights.

  9. Tom

    Oh… Kirby created the Demon, too!

  10. InfiniteSpeech

    Thanks for clearing that up for me Tom

  11. Eli

    Good point about the DC characters Tom. Could all of this repeat itself when those characters are eligible? One thing to keep in mind with those DC characters is the fact that the heirs can officially declare their intentions regarding the copyrights 10 years before 56 year period is up. So, if the New Gods were first published in 1971, then the heirs can start this all over again with DC around the year 2017.

  12. This kind of stuff makes me sick. Jack Kirby himself might have a legit claim, since he was the co-creator of a lot of the early Marvel Universe…but his kids? What the heck have they done?? Nothing, that’s what. They are just making a grab for money! Something for nothing. That makes me sick.

    Kirby worked for hire, he knew that. His kids shouldn’t get anything. Besides, Kirby was CO-creator of these characters, along with Stan Lee…wouldn’t that mean that only HALF the rights would go to Kirbys money grubbing brood? All this is going to do is create a lot of useless “busy work” for a lot of people and create plenty of headaches. This entire thing is a farce.

  13. Tom

    Don’t forget that the role the company had in making the characters as recognizable as they are today. It’s not a popular position to take, but without the company publishing and promoting his work, they’d be as obscure as most of Kirby’s creator-owned Indy work in his later years — or some of his golden-age creations for now-defunct publishers. Kirby was a great talent, but sadly even the best ideas won’t reach fruition without proper backing (i.e. money and resources).

  14. Eli

    Hopefully this won’t make any waves whenever it does get resolved.

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