In September of 2009, the four children of comic legend Jack Kirby sent out 45 “notices of termination” to the companies currently making money off of their father’s creations, including Marvel, Disney, Sony, Fox and Universal. Now, The Hollywood Reporter tells us the suit has officially been filed, seeking declaratory relief (the simple declaration of the status of a matter in controversy) as well as copyright termination for certain properties and, of course, profits. Marvel already filed their own suit back in January, citing the 1909 Copyright Act as the basis for Marvel being the “author” of any Kirby-created works, but with the Kirby estate shopping for a court date it will be interesting to see if Marvel responds with any further counter legal action. Certainly with the might of the House of Mouse behind them, it shouldn’t be difficult to do so.
The matter is a contentious one: On the one hand, you would be hard pressed to find a professional or fan who felt creators didn’t deserve payment, accolades and credit for their work. On the other hand, given that Mr. Kirby passed sixteen years ago, this comes across as a play for millions – if not tens of millions – of dollars that the plaintiffs feel entitled to. The complaint states:
With respect to Co-Owned Kirby Works, Plaintiffs are entitled to a pro rata percentage of any and all proceeds, compensation, monies, profits, gains and advantages from the exploitation of, or attributable to, in whole or in part, such Co-Owned Kirby Works
For clarity’s sake, the Co-Owned Kirby Works to which the documents refer include but are not limited to The Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury, Spider-Man, The Avengers and the X-Men, and just so we’re on the same page, pro rata means proportionate ratio, aka a whole lot of money.
Given that Kirby has never been an obscure figure, that his monumental contributions to the landscape of modern super-hero comic books have never been disputed, the suit clearly can’t be about regaining recognition or lost glory- right? Except a portion of the complaint states “Kirby was also not properly identified by Marvel as the author or co-author of the underlying works on which the Kirby Films and the Kirby Film Merchandise were based.”, referring to The Incredible Hulk and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The plaintiffs state that the false advertisements “were made by Marvel with a willful disregard for the public interest”, and that the company’s actions have caused indefinable injury to the Kirby estate both financially and in reputation.
I would be curious as to what Len Wein thinks of that.
Of course, there’s a bonus to the hubbub if you think Fox is mutilating the Marvel properties it holds the rights to since, as THR points out, if the Kirby estate wins copyright termination they can license competing versions of the franchises.
When it comes down to it, Jack Kirby should have made a lot more money than he did. The characters he created with Stan Lee are not merely iconic, but altered the nature of the industry and remain some of the most beloved characters in the Marvel Universe – Lee, Ditko and Kirby made Marvel what it was and enabled it to become what it is now (I mean that in a good way). His relationship with the publisher was a rocky one to be sure, and not without reason; the complaint cites the creator’s mid-80s dispute with Marvel over the possession of his original artwork, which the plaintiffs say was not all returned. I think, ultimately, it’s the scope of this lawsuit that risks smacking of opportunism, but with fifty years of history in the pages of the complaint and millions of dollars to be made or lost in the future depending on its outcome, who’s to say the family hasn’t the right to pursue battles their father thought were already lost? What do you guys think?
Source: The Hollywood Reporter