(UPDATE 1:55 PM) After today’s order in their favor from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that the estate of Jack Kirby had no right to issue notices back in 2009 terminating rights to characters he co-crested, Marvel issued the following: “We are gratified by the appellate court’s definitive ruling that there is no legitimate basis to terminate our ownership of the copyrights at issue,” said a company spokesperson.
PREVIOUSLY: The heirs of Captain America, The Avengers and X-Men co-creator Jack Kirby can’t terminate Marvel’s rights to his achievements because the comic legend was under a work-for-hire deal, a federal appeals court confirmed today. The ruling (read it here) by the Second Circuit Court of Appeal Thursday reaffirmed a 2011 decision by a US District Court judge on Kirby’s employment status with Marvel and what that entitled him to. “Marvel was therefore entitled to summary judgment,” wrote Judge Robert Sack for the court. “The district court made no error, in our view, in determining as a matter of law that the works were made at Marvel’s instance and expense,” he added of Kirby’s freelancer status. However, despite the end of this appeal, the case isn’t entirely over. In deciding its jurisdiction extends to only two of Kirby’s children, the Court has allowed the possibility for Lisa and Neal Kirby to find a new legal venue for the termination orders. Kirby collaborated with then Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee on Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Hulk, The Silver Surfer and Thor among many others. Most of whom have found lucrative new life in mediums others than just on the comic pages.
As with similar copyright disputes, this case has dragged out in the courts for several years. In 2009, Lisa Kirby, Susan Kirby, Barbara Kirby and Neal Kirby sent 45 notices terminating copyright to publishers Marvel and Disney, as well as film studios that have made movies and TV shows based on characters he created or co-created, including Sony, Universal, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures under the provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act. Marvel and Disney said the family simply had no right to do that. After attempts to strike a deal faltered, they sued the Kirbys on January 8, 2010 to invalidate the notices. Marc Toberoff, who also represented the heirs to the Superman creators in their long legal copyright battle with Warner Bros, served as the Kirbys’ attorney. The case was argued in front of the Court of Appeals on October 24, 2012.