The Marvel Universe faces one of its greatest battles yet, not Thanos, not Dr, Doom, not even Galactus, but the courtroom as a number of heirs and estates of former Marvel artists/writers have filed for termination against the media giant, costing Disney full ownership of the characters, and Marvel is fighting back to prevent it.
Many notable creators such as Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby and more all created numerous characters and storylines for Marvel Comics throughout the 20th Century, but as the 21st Century moved around most of these characters moved to the big screen and made bank. But the heirs of some of these creators feel like their family is owed some sort of compensation for the characters and have filed for termination, both in New York and California. If any of these cases are approved Disney/Marvel could loose Millions.
For those who are unfamiliar with Termination provisions of Copyright Law authors or their heirs can reclaim rights once granted to publishers after waiting a statutory set period of time. Many of these kinds of legal battles have been popping up as of late, such as when the writers for Predator tried to reclaim the rights to the franchise from Disney.
This past May, Larry Leiber, the younger brother of the late Stan Lee and co-creator of Iron Man and Thor, filed suit while in August the Ditko Estate, co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, also filed suit. If successful Disney would loose “Full Ownership” rights of many of these characters by 2023 and would be forced into a Co-Ownership, and could even affect the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Many of the hairs/estates are being represented by Marc Toberoff, known for attempting to help Superman creators Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster sue DC for ownership, but were unsuccessful in that regard as DC still owns Superman to this day, yet the company agreed to a special credit for Superman related projects, similar to how Bob Kane and Bill Finger are credited in Batman Media.
Marvel is currently fighting back against these notices with lawsuits of their own, arguing that all the properties were created on a work-for-hire basis and that they have full copyright of the characters and stories. In 2014 Disney settled a case with the children of Jack Kirby that saw an appeals court rule in Disney’s favor, concluding that Kirby had worked on a for-hire basis. In the case against Leiber they stated:
“This case thus involves an invalid attempt, by means of termination notices … to acquire certain rights to iconic Marvel comic book characters and stories.“
Marvel also argues their “Marvel Method” of creating, stating that it is very difficult to credit the proper people due to how complex the collaborative effort is when reading characters and stories.
Things such as the “Marvel Method” are what caused many creators in the 1990s to go form their own companies, most famously Image Comics, where they get full ownership of their characters and not have to worry about sharing the profit. Many creators today either self fund or crowdfund their own comic related projects versus working for a bigger company.
Will Marvel/Disney be able to hold onto the character rights to these famous characters? Most likely, but you never know what might happen in a court room.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter
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