Monday, September 21, 2009

The Return Of The King: Kirby Heirs Seek The Kingdom

PLANET GRIFFIN returns to broadcast depth to give the gifts that keep on giving! Today's big hit comes to the Mighty Marvel Mouse House as the world-at-large is now becoming aware of a story that's been brewing since the announcement of the Disney/Marvel merger... Last week, 45 notices of copyright terminations arrived in the offices of MARVEL, SONY (currently owners of Spider-Man's film rights), PARAMOUNT PICTURES (currently holding distribution rights to 4 upcoming Marvel film projects, including Iron Man), 20TH CENTURY FOX (currently owners of Fantastic Four and The X-Men's film rights), and UNIVERSAL PICTURES (holding distribution rights to the Hulk films)...

The reason? The 4 heirs of JACK "KING" KIRBY have filed to reclaim the copyrights of the characters created/co-created by one of the most influential men in comics.

MARC TOBEROFF, the attorney who successfully wrangled the copyrights of Superman to the Siegel heirs, now represents the Kirby heirs. This is a pretty tall order, considering that Kirby created/co-created Fantastic Four (copyright eligible in 2017) , The Hulk (2018), The X-Men (2019), The Avengers, Thor, Black Panther, Silver Surfer, Nick Fury (yes, the white one), Magneto, Galactus, Captain America, and Doctor Doom... Basically, the entirety of the Marvel House. The earliest the copyright claims will be heard is 2014, so Marvel's got time.



Under copyright law, the author or his heirs can begin a process to regain copyrights a certain period of years after the original grant. If Mr. Kirby’s four children were to gain the copyright to a co-created character, they might become entitled to a share of profits from films or other properties using it. They might also find themselves able to sell rights to certain characters independently of Marvel, Disney, or the various studios that have licensed the Marvel properties for their hit films.

Copyright issues have become increasingly difficult for Hollywood, as it continues to trade on characters and stories that were created decades ago, but are now subject to deadlines and expiration dates under federal copyright law.

Disney may not end up with full ownership of many of Marvel's Most Famous super-heroes if new copyright claims by the children of the late artist Jack Kirby prove successful. (Or will they? I'll get to that in a moment...) If Marvel, Disney or any of the other companies challenge his claims, it may be a complex legal process to determine what exact role Kirby played as creator or co-creator of various characters who first appeared nearly 50 years ago.
Marvel shareholders must still approve the sale of the company to Disney, which is already battling criticism from some Wall Street analysts that Marvel comes with too messy an array of rights agreements (But that's what happens when commercialism overtakes common sense)... Disney will have a hard time immediately executing a coordinated exploitation of Marvel’s various brands.

The copyrights would then run for 39 more years before expiring, after which the characters would enter the public domain under current law. Of course, you know that Marvel wouldn't allow any one of their characters to float out into the ether.

Stan Lee, who has also been Marvel's editor in chief, has been a public face of the company for decades, Kirby is less well known publicly despite the fact that he worked closely with Lee on many of the publisher's best-known characters, partly because Kirby left to work for competitor DC Comics in 1970. Noting Stan's comment of Disney,'... Being a great match...', it creates another avenue entirely...
Should the claims of the Kirby heirs stand, they could choose to 'assign' their portion of the rights to the current copyright holders for a fee or sell them outright to a new licensee... This move can serve as a HUGE benefit to the Disney corporation if the heirs were to sell their portion to them instead of Marvel. Considering that this lawsuit was filed a week prior to Disney's big announcement and was made known to Disney's Robert Iger, maybe his assertion that 'Marvel will NOT become Disney' is not entirely true, especially considering the abrupt departure of Disney Chairman, Dick Cook, who viewed the new Disney model as '... A conflict of interest...', has me wondering if Iger doesn't have a much larger scheme waiting in the wings...

...In fact, you may even say this little move is timely.

As some of you may recall ( see Marvel? A Mouseketeer?), I ended the post with the question of if Mice ate spiders... (Disney as art of war, perhaps?) If the Kirby clan can be convinced by the Mouse House more so than the House of Ideas, we may very well have a definitive answer in the years to come.




4 comments:

Brian Miller said...

Man, crazy times in the mega-corporation world. Its going to be interesting to see how all this plays out... and nerve wracking as it will affect a TON of creatives (myself included!).

Rodney Blackwell - The Infamous RodBuddah said...

Mega corporations built on the backs of giants. Siegel, Shuster, Kirby... Easier for a company to shine recognition when they don't have to come out of pocket... Billions of dollars later, and it takes a lawsuit for them to recognize the obvious?! Wow! With that said, I think it's only right that the foundations of these greats be maintained by the corporations that built on them.

Thanks for chiming in, Brian! I think our transition period is just starting partner...

samax said...

i wonder how these lawsuits will effect the current comics-to-movies mania in hollywood (which i don't see as all bad). I would imagine it can't help... companies felt they had a rock-solid claim to movie rights for superman or x-men or whatever, and now all that cheese is up in the air.

it doesn't seem like companies would be too keen to make deals for the rights to comics properties while there's this sort of feeding frenzy in the legal circles...

but what do i know? i just DRAW the damn things...

RodBuddah said...

You're right... We ALL draw the damn things... We merely provide the fuel they need to burn. Hollywood needs us only in so much that we feed the entertainment machine with a steady diet of imagination and bite. The past is coming back to bite some of these people in the ass. Once that's said and done, they may go back to dealing with US one on one again.

But hey, what do I know?
Thanks for chiming in, Samax. Your 2cent is valued here;)