Jack Kirby’s Estate Sues Disney/Marvel

Published 4 years ago by , Updated February 10th, 2012 at 8:40 am,

jack kirby header Jack Kirby’s Estate Sues Disney/Marvel

In a move the reeks of opportunism and greed, Jack Kirby’s Estate (a.k.a. his family) have hired Intellectual Property Lawyer Marc Toberoff to sue Disney/Marvel, Sony, Universal, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures in an attempt to reclaim copyright ownership of the characters their late father Jacob Kurtzberg created. You may know his name better as Jack Kirby and you are most familiar with his iconic and highly popular comic book creations, The Fantastic Four, Captain America, the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and The Silver Surfer.

Thanks to the guys over /Film for sharing this with us and to Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool and Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywod who seem to have gotten the drop on this breaking news. This is not the first lawsuit we’ve seen involving a comic book creator’s estate vs. the current owner and publisher; Just recently we reported and discussed WB/DC’s fight with the heirs of Jerry Siegel and Jerry Schuster over the rights to Superman.

The Siegel/Shuster heirs have been successful in their legal pursuit to some degree; they now have full access to Superman’s origins with many thanks going to their superstar lawyer (you guessed it) Marc Toberoff. What they are going to do with the just the origins of Superman remains a mystery to me, because after the countless retellings of Superman’s beginnings, I’m pretty sure we weren’t going to see that story again anytime soon.

Back to Jack Kirby: His Estate is currently suing and sending termination of copyrights notifications to each of the big studios that have involvement with any of characters Kirby created. The rest of this article is background information on Jack Kirby and my own observations and opinions. I am not a copyright lawyer, nor do I claim to have extensive background knowledge on U.S. Copyright Laws; so if you see something I misinterpreted, please enlighten me.

This isn’t the first time Kirby and Marvel haven’t seen eye to eye on things. In a very detailed account over at The Comic Journal, Marvel was in a major dispute with Kirby during much of the 80s, regarding his  work from the 60s and 70s. At the end of the day (and after Will Eisner got involved), Marvel reluctantly agreed to give Kirby back 1900 pages of his work. That seems like a lot, but it’s actually less than 25% of what Kirby had done.

fantastic four Jack Kirby’s Estate Sues Disney/Marvel

Kirby was the first illustrator hired when Jerry Iger and Will Eisner formed Eisner & Iger Studios in the 1930s.  Until 1978, when the copyright laws were changed, most if not all of the comic creators hired artists under a “work-for-hire arrangement”. In other words: artists didn’t own the rights to whatever they were paid to draw. The same thing is still done today in other business models – electronics and programming are two of the biggest examples.

When a programmer working for Microsoft writes a new program and it turns into the major code behind a new piece of Microsoft software, that programmer doesn’t own the rights to his code. He was paid by Microsoft to write it and has already been fairly compensated for his time and effort. He doesn’t have the right to sue once that program starts making millions of dollars, just because he is jealous.

I don’t claim to know the copyright laws inside and out, but to me it would seem pretty simple: If Jack Kirby was hired under those aforementioned circumstances, then any characters he created should not be his to own. Sure, he will always get “creative credit” for coming up with them in the first place, but it’s not like he thought them up in his garage and then Marvel came along and stole them in the night. From what I understand, Kirby was paid fairly to create those Marvel characters and without the company publishing his work, he would not have gotten them off the ground. Of course the reverse could be (and likely will be) argued – that Kirby created the most iconic characters in Marvel’s repertoire and without him they would have died a slow comic death.

(Head to pg. 2 to help answer the question, “Why Now?”)

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TAGS: captain america, fantastic four, iron man, iron man 3, the incredible hulk, thor, x-men, x-men 4

51 Comments

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  1. Well said Richard.

    If people were aware of Disney’s tactics when I comes to screwing writers, animators, employees, talent, people in general we would all be supporting Kirby and his family…

    I’ve known about Disney’s true colors for years btw!!!
    Disney’s corrupt and fascist leaders use Mickey and the wholesome vibe as a powerful facade to deflect suspicion of evil.
    They are the worst most diabolical entertainment giant in the industry, and will stop at nothing to get what they want. ;-). (IMO)

    • Disney revived Thor because a Navy Sailor, Thor was on Hollywood Blvd. and at that time media was run by the Rap music Industry. An Industry Thor declared corrupt with violence and drugs! Their payback put a Wig on a dominant white Legend!

  2. Um, so did they buy the Marvel company or the movie/comic book? I don`t mind them buying X-Men, fantastic 4 or Hulk but all the other characters i really rather they don`t own because i like seeing the fashion they come in if they bought the company and it won`t effect anything to do with Marvel i guess i`m kind of ok except for spiderman cuz they might have to make the movies lighter if it`s from Disney but if they bought the movie instead of the company i`ll be pissed cuz there`s things to be done in the Spiderman series ok no actually no X-Men is one of my favorites as well i think Batman, Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, and Iron Man and maybe captain america and thor aren`t touched by disney other than that i guess i`m happy.

  3. I’m with Richard on this… and I’m frankly astonished how many other posters seem to be siding with the big corporation over the little guy, apparently just because they feel entitled to new corporate product without any concern over creators’ rights.

    Copyright, as a legal concept, is a temporary thing. The intention of it is (or was, originally) to allow creators (writers, artists) to benefit from the exploitation of their creations for a reasonable time, the better to encourage new work, and then let those creations pass into the public domain.

    Modern corporations have turned all that on its head, and Disney (although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “evil”) has been behind a lot of that. The Mouse was created in 1928, and the legal duration of copyright keeps getting extended enough to keep it covered… not to benefit any actual creative person or even their heirs, but to benefit corporate execs and shareholders.

    In the case at hand, Jack Kirby created (or co-created, with Stan Lee) brilliant, enduring characters and concepts that have made *millions* for people who had *nothing* to do with their creation. “Work-for-hire” contracts at the time were little better than indentured servitude. A basic sense of justice suggests that the creator, or in this case his heirs, should at least be entitled to a slice of the pie.

    I’m not familiar with the precise legal details in this case (I’m more familiar with the Superman one), but I’m sure nobody (on either side) is suggesting that the properties be hidden away from public view; there would be no point in that. The proposition is merely that the profits generated by bringing them to the public be shared with the family of the man who made it all possible. What could possibly be wrong with that?

  4. Nicely put together Chris M..

  5. ok i only mind if it doesn`t affect anything in the Marvel fashion or the important stories Marvel is planning if this doesn`t affect any of the important villains and settings and plotlines in the marvel franchises that are needed to be used i will be okay but how the hell could they buy iron Man 2 and Spiderman 4 they are writing tons of Spiderman 4 scripts and aren`t they alkready filming for I2 it comes out next year ok even if it doesn`t lower the Pg-13 rating of most movies i still think Spidey and Iron man stay with Marvel for a little while unless i`m sure it doesn`t affect anything to do with those characters at all i`m not sure if i care what they do with Avengers, Thor, etc.

  6. Oh what i mean is, i just want Marvel to put the stories they were planning to put in those movies and nothing disney-related changes the story and that the movies don`t go too goofy

  7. yeah i don`t want anything to extreme to happen in the movies

  8. If anything disneyed makes something happen in the movies I don`t like, I might just cry and leave the movie theatre.

  9. Any time Disney is sued over intellectual property rights is a good thing. I guarantee you the Eisner family isn’t suing Marvel, they’re suing Disney, because they don’t want to see their father’s creativity and hard work be completely swept under the rug like Disney has done with nearly all “their” works.

  10. The Argument of Kirby’s family getting the rights and monies for all the comic characters he created is like me saying that because my great grandfather and Grandmother were slaves I should be able to sue companies, take over those companies and reap their profits. I know, I know its a bad analogy…but you see how dumb it sounds. If said companies are able to be sued for bad business decisions 60 years ago. then who is to say that other companies cant be sued…is there a statue of limitations? and if so when does it end.

  11. Marcus, you admit it’s a bad analogy, so why post it? I don’t even want to touch on the issue of slavery reparations, except to note that nobody is even remotely talking about “taking over” any company.

    Is the company in question here still *profiting* from its business decision (not a bad one at all, just an unjust one!) decades ago? Yes, because copyright law still applies… so claims by the creator’s estate are certainly still relevant. When copyright expires and the properties pass into the public domain, then at that point the question of ownership rights becomes moot. Not before.

  12. “From what I understand, Kirby was paid fairly to create those Marvel characters and without the company publishing his work, he would not have gotten them off the ground.”

    No, he was not paid fairly, not like Stan Lee was. Jack Kirby was paid as an artist, not as a co-creator or co-plotter. When Marvel was being bought out in the late 1960's, the new owners were under the impression that Stan Lee was the SOLE creative genius behing the entire company and that all the artists did were draw from the detailed scripts of Stan Lee. Have you ever seen the 2-page typed story idea for Fantastic Four #1? Its been reproduced in the Marvel Vault Book, and its pitifully short and what Jack was able to turn that into a 22-page instant classic. It shows how much Jack had to do with the sucess of that and All the Marvel titles- that he did at least half of the work if not much, much more. Even now most people acknoledge Kirby as the co-plotter for everything he and Stan Lee did. The story for the creation of Galactus goes in the FF is that Stan sent Jack a stry idea that read “Have the FF Fight God.”. With that Jack created Galactus and the Silver Surfer, the Power Cosmic and the story.

    If you are not aware of the Marvel Method of comic book creating, it goes like this: The writer gives an idea to the artist, who then takes the idea and makes a 22-page sequential story based on the idea with dialogue and new character designs, the pacing of the story and finishes it and gives it back to the writer who re-writes the dialogue and calls himself the writer and the artist the penciller. Thats how Jack and Stan worked for over a decade. Seems a little one-sided doesnt it?

    When Jack approached one of the new owners and introduced himself as the penciller and co-creator of everything the owner laughed in his face and related to him that Stan did everything and the artists were basically puppets. Upset, Jack left for DC Comics.

    At DC, Jack created his FOURTH WORLD titles, New Gods, Forever People and Mister Miracle. He also created Etrigan the Demon, Kamandi and more. In the 1980's Jack returned to DC where they gave him retro-active royalties from the FOURTH WORLD characters as they pertained to their SUPER POWERS line of comics, toys and cartoons. DC did this on their own, without any lawsuits. They did it because it was the right thing to do, for a man who did so much and recieved so little when it was originally done, but had also made DC alot of money.

    Marvel has always taken care of Stan Lee. He has been paid MILLIONS of dollars over the years for what he and Jack created. Marvel has never tried to repay Kirby.

    Is the timing of this less than ideal? Yes. Would Jack Kirby have filed this suit were he alive today? I don't think so. But if YOU had someone working for you, that created something amazing that you made BILLIONS of dollars on, and this person was being paid nothing in addition to their meager salary, wouldn't you want to share your sucess with this person? Wouldn't you want to celebrate this person who helped you into amazing fiancial sucess? I know I would.

  13. In a move that reeks of insensitivity and callousness, the owner of this blog accuses the Kirby family of greed and opportunism. Why now? Because under the terms of current copyright law, Kirby or his estate legally could not pursue a copyright action, an action allowed to them (pending a court decision, of course.) It's a shame that your allegiance to a mindless corporation is so great that you don't want Kirby or his family share in what Jack created.

  14. Its hilarious how people are programmed to automatically defend the corperations who dominate their lives.
    To those saying Kirby's family should get notmoney for what Kirby did…HUH???
    Uh…do you think Paris Hilton had anything to do with starting the Hilton Hotel chain? Or any of the Rockefeller's with the original oil industry? It's called INHERITANCE. Duh. Do you live in a house that your parents built and paid for? Well according to the twisted logic on this thread all children of homeowners should be homeless unless they helped build or pay for their parents homes. ??!! Marvel is the house that JACK BUILT. Period. His children have a right to live in it and profit from it as part of his enduring leagacy and inheritance to THEM. It is how wealth is built in our great nation. We do not have a monarchy but we do have this form of ameritocracy that allows for economic mobility to be transmitted from one generation to the next irrespective of class or privilege. Bill Gates' childen will damn sure own patents to Windows and Kirby's children SHOULD own copyrights to their FATHER'S work. Are you kidding me?
    As for the work for hire argument. The contracts Kirby worked under were for EXISTING media streams and publishing schemes. At the time that was ONE-OFF publishing. In his lifetime and after it DOZENS of new media streams publishing schemes and ancilliary forms of merchandising have emerged. These new forms of selling his creations account for the majority of his creations profits. Marvel has exploited the fact that Kirby did not agree to getting paid for profit from these subsequent markets BECAUSE THEY DID NOT EXIST. That is evil. The ethical thing would be to retroactively create and implement a modern contract respective of todays market that is comensurate with Kirby's high profile. Like a contract that someone like Niel Gaiman signs when doing a publishing deal. That would be fair. The loophole is this…While Kirby did not agree to get paid from these non existing markets he never agreed to NOT get paid from them either. Disney/MArvel are the greedy ones. They have NO lawful or legal right to keep Kirby's family from their inheritance. They will lose as surely as DC/Warner lost to the Schusters and Siegle families. The justice system of our nation still WORKS.
    Oh I'm sorry, only the president of Disney is supposed to profit from Kirby's legacy because he helped create Kirby's characters lol.
    And you wonder how America got raped into a recession by billionaires?
    Good grief.

  15. Its hilarious how people are programmed to automatically defend the corperations who dominate their lives.
    To those saying Kirby's family should get notmoney for what Kirby did…HUH???
    Uh…do you think Paris Hilton had anything to do with starting the Hilton Hotel chain? Or any of the Rockefeller's with the original oil industry? It's called INHERITANCE. Duh. Do you live in a house that your parents built and paid for? Well according to the twisted logic on this thread all children of homeowners should be homeless unless they helped build or pay for their parents homes. ??!! Marvel is the house that JACK BUILT. Period. His children have a right to live in it and profit from it as part of his enduring leagacy and inheritance to THEM. It is how wealth is built in our great nation. We do not have a monarchy but we do have this form of ameritocracy that allows for economic mobility to be transmitted from one generation to the next irrespective of class or privilege. Bill Gates' childen will damn sure own patents to Windows and Kirby's children SHOULD own copyrights to their FATHER'S work. Are you kidding me?
    As for the work for hire argument. The contracts Kirby worked under were for EXISTING media streams and publishing schemes. At the time that was ONE-OFF publishing. In his lifetime and after it DOZENS of new media streams publishing schemes and ancilliary forms of merchandising have emerged. These new forms of selling his creations account for the majority of his creations profits. Marvel has exploited the fact that Kirby did not agree to getting paid for profit from these subsequent markets BECAUSE THEY DID NOT EXIST. That is evil. The ethical thing would be to retroactively create and implement a modern contract respective of todays market that is comensurate with Kirby's high profile. Like a contract that someone like Niel Gaiman signs when doing a publishing deal. That would be fair. The loophole is this…While Kirby did not agree to get paid from these non existing markets he never agreed to NOT get paid from them either. Disney/MArvel are the greedy ones. They have NO lawful or legal right to keep Kirby's family from their inheritance. They will lose as surely as DC/Warner lost to the Schusters and Siegle families. The justice system of our nation still WORKS.
    Oh I'm sorry, only the president of Disney is supposed to profit from Kirby's legacy because he helped create Kirby's characters lol.
    And you wonder how America got raped into a recession by billionaires?
    Good grief.

    • WELL SAID, BRO!!!!

  16. I really like the stuff he did before like the forever people

  17. The argument that without Kirby’s employment at Marvel, Marvel would have dies from a slow comic book death does not stand, as one presume that Marvel did not have other talent to hire instead to help create of CO-CREATE for hire possibilities. Marvel invested greatly on Jack Kirby as their employee, but if it had not been a regular fat salary going to him, that money invested would have good to others, and they would have created other characters, if not more or less the same ones, as often Marvel passed orders to create specific type of characters and even names. In my view, as the time Jack Kirby was at the employment of Marvel, from first to last day there, that does not give him any copyright or give his greedy selfish kids any ownership. When not in direct orders of Joe Simon, Jack Kirby was mostly directly under the orders of Stan Lee telling him exactly what he wanted.

    • Thats patently absurd, asserting that Joe Simon made Kirby look good. Simon had little and NOTHING to offer the Marvel age beyond copying the Shield to Goodman’s spec. You shill.

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