A federal judge ruled that heirs of comic creator Jack Kirby cannot lay any claim to a platoon of Marvel characters viz the Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, the Avengers, X-Men and the Incredible Hulk.
According to Judge Colleen McMahon, Kirby's works were made "for hire," meaning that they are exempt from a provision of copyright law that allows authors and artists to obtain rights to their original creations after a certain passage of time, reports Variety.
She alluded to a statement made by Jack Kirby himself where he stated that he worked at a time when the ownership of all characters he drew vested in the company who assigned the work.
The judge ruled that none of the facts provided by the Kirby heirs "makes so much as a dent in the 'almost irrefutable' presumption that the Kirby Works were works made for hire." She also said that the facts presented did not necessitate any trial.
She said the 1909 copyright law that applies to the case presumed that Marvel was considered the author and owner of Kirby's creations as they were made at Marvel’s behest and expense.
Kirby died in 1994 and he is credited with creating some of the most valuable characters in the Marvel library. The suit focused on the work that he did for Marvel comics from 1958 to 1963.
The judge gave a lot of credence to Stan Lee’s testimony. Lee was the editor at Marvel during that period and he testified that he did not purchase work from artists that was not an assignment from him. He elaborated that he would give a general outline of the plot and characters to the artists which after submission was further edited and dialogues and caption added.
In September 2009, the heirs served 45 notices of termination to Marvel for works published during that time, which also include the Mighty Thor, Iron Man and Nick Fury. In January 2010, Marvel sought a declaration from a federal court that it retained the copyright, and the Kirby heirs then filed for a ruling that their termination notices were valid. (Source Variety).
The ruling comes as a great victory for both Marvel and its parent company,Walt Disney Co. Walt Disney has grand plans to exploit Marvel’s library of characters in projects featuring the characters.
Disney said in a statement, "We are pleased that in this case, the judge has confirmed Marvel's ownership rights."
The Kirby’s lawyer, Marc Toberoff, said that they "respectfully disagree" with the ruling and intend to appeal to the Second Circuit. "Sometimes you have to lose to win," he added.