According to The Wall Street Journal, heirs of the late comic book creator Jack Kirby have served Marvel Entertainment, the Walt Disney Co., and other Hollywood studios with 45 copyright-termination notices seeking to reclaim the copyrights to characters created or co-created by Kirby.  Kirby’s four children are suing under the auspices of the U.S. Copyright Act, which permits, in some cases, authors and their heirs to terminate old copyright grants “after a long waiting period.”


The Journal reports that the Kirby heirs are seeking to reclaim some rights as early as 2014, though a Disney spokesperson told the paper:  The notices involved are an attempt to terminate rights seven to 10 years from now and involve claims fully considered in the acquisition.”  On August 30th, Disney announced it intention to acquire Marvel for $4 billion (see “Disney Buys Marvel”).


Marvel currently holds the copyrights to the 45 characters in question, a list that includes Captain America, the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, the Silver Surfer, and the Black Panther, as well as a host of Marvel villains including Galactus, Magneto, and Doctor Doom, to name just a few of the most prominent.  Were the Kirby heirs to obtain the copyrights, they could then demand a share of the profits generated by the characters in comics, books, films, cartoons and licensing, or they could even license the characters themselves without Marvel’s permission.


The heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel have had some success in their lawsuit against DC Comics (see “Siegel Heirs Win Another Round”), though that case has not yet been fully resolved.  The action taken by the Kirby heirs is likely to result in another lawsuit in which the murky “work for hire” concept is examined in its relationship to the creative process and copyright ownership.