Marvel crushes Kirby copyright claim, but heirs vow to fight on

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Dec 14, 2012

Marvel Entertainment executives can breathe a little easier: A judge has declared that characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four still belong to the company.

According to Variety, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon has handed Marvel a huge legal victory over the heirs of artist Jack Kirby, who created or co-created iconic characters like Spidey, the X-Men, the Avengers and the Hulk.

Kirby's family sued to win back ownership of those and many other characters, claiming that a provision of copyright law allows authors and artists to gain back the rights to their creations after a certain amount of time has gone by. Marvel sued back, claiming that Kirby, who died in 1994, created those characters as "works for hire" and relinquished all ownership rights as a result.

The federal judge sided with Marvel, ruling that Kirby's works were all "for hire" by Marvel and its predecessors. McMahon said in her ruling that "none of the evidence makes so much as a dent in the 'almost irrebuttable' presumption that the Kirby Works were works made for hire." She added that the Kirby family did not offer any evidence that would lead her to believe that the issue should be brought to trial.

If the Kirby estate had won, it would have caused massive headaches not just for Marvel, but for its corporate owner Disney and other studios, like 20th Century Fox and Sony, that currently have Marvel-based franchises.

Kirby estate attorney Marc Toberoff told the Hollywood Reporter that he will appeal the case, saying, "We respectfully disagree with the court's ruling ... sometimes you have to lose in order to win."

Whose side are you on? Do you think Kirby just didn't know at the time how valuable these characters would become and didn't think to secure his rights? Or is this another case of the big corporation putting the screws to the artist?

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