Marvel and Jack Kirby estate settle their disputes

Marvel and Jack Kirby estate settle their disputes

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A joint statement has just been released by Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby indicating that a settlement of somekind hs been made:

“Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes, and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honoring Mr. Kirby’s significant role in Marvel’s history.” 

 

HOLY CRAP.

The Kirby Estate had been suing Marvel for right to the characters Kirby created over the years, from Captain America in the 40s to the Fantastic Four in the 60s. Although every court case went against the Kirby family, recently it seemed that the case might actually go to the Supreme Court, and it may have been the unpredictable nature of the claims that led to this settlement.

While an initial wave of joy over the end of this battle is the natural emotion, one hopes that the Kirby family got something out of this and it wasn’t just keeping up appearances in the light of an ongoing battle that didn’t look like it would end favorably.

 

Comments

  1. CaptainMcgloo says

    Good news for all involved. I’m glad Kirby’s family is getting something for the characters he Co-Created and I’m glad Marvel can finally start to put all that to rest. Would have been nice if this happened thirty years ago but still. It’s kind of sad to think about all the great interviews and great work we would have gotten if Marvel and Kirby had worked things out years ago.

  2. Kurt Busiek says

    Considering that the Kirby Estate didn’t seem to have anything to lose by going to the Supreme Court, but Marvel/Disney had a lot on the line, I’m thinking (or hoping, at least) that this was a decent settlement for the Estate. Given the timing — if the Supreme Court had chosen to hear the case, no settlement would then be possible — it virtually has to be a deal spurred on by the side that doesn’t want the case to go to the Court.

    However unlikely onlookers think it might be that the Court would take up the case, and however corporate-friendly the Court may seem to be, the stakes are very high, and a settlement may have seemed a better plan than rolling the dice.

    In any case, I hope it’s a good and happy outcome for both sides. If the Kirby Estate gets a share of the wealth Kirby helped Marvel earn, and Marvel gets out from under the negative publicity of having one of the three major architects of the Marvel Universe cut out its success (the third, Ditko, still doesn’t get a share, but he’s aggressively quiet about it), then that would seem like a win-win.

  3. says

    @Kurt, I recall reading an op-ed by Ditko years ago about Kirby vs. Marvel where Steve basically said that work for hire deals were fair, a deal was a deal, A is A, etc.

  4. says

    Jack is gone. This is just about people fighting over money.

    His children had no more to do with his success than you or me… and we all know he did the work for hire, just like my job….

  5. Andrew Farago says

    Jack Kirby worked as hard as he did so that he could provide for his family. Anyone who says his heirs don’t deserve anything isn’t someone I want to know.

  6. says

    Marvel and Kirby settled; good for them but short of the victory for all creators which it could have been. Still, others could use the Kirby argument in negotiations with publishers. Haven’t heard about Superman which could get heard and win based on the same legal principals.

  7. Chap says

    The chance of the United States Supreme Court taking the case was probably pretty slim. Toberoff was probably tired of getting his ass kicked and decided he needed to make some money of this case and thus a settlement was reached.

  8. Johnny Memeonic says

    The Kirby family is undoubtedly getting some profit/revenue sharing deal in exchange for bringing the legal dispute to an end. And that really is the way to go when you think about it. Disney has the machine to make zillions with the characters that Kirby co-created whereas the Kirby family would not be able to do that even if they did get a significant share of the rights back.

  9. Kurt Busiek says

    Scott – I’m not sure you’re remembering that correctly; there’ve been other indications that Ditko’s thoughts on the subject don’t quite match such a stance. Either way, though, it’s true that Ditko does not get compensated for films and such, and does not make noise about it.

    Tony – it’s good to know that the legal parameters of Kirby’s employment are just like your job, which we all know because you say so. Also because, apparently, you work at home, for multiple companies, buy your own supplies, get no vacation pay, sick pay or health insurance, and are entirely responsible for your own tax withholding. That’s not like most jobs, but hey, if Kirby’s was just like yours, it must get rough from time to time, but I’m sure you can soldier on.

  10. W.R.Printz says

    Yes, as it is point out, Jack is gone. Yes, this is people just fighting about money. But then….why the hell not? It’s not like they are fighting with starving nuns. They are fighting a huge corporation, who’s main goal is to make money. They deserve part of that, as Kirby made real and lasting contributions which deserved real compensation, and his family should benefit from that, and Marvel should have stepped up on it years ago.

    So, enough with the worship of corporations, thanks. Huzzah for creators and their kids.

  11. Jer says

    They are fighting a huge corporation, who’s main goal is to make money.

    Exactly. The people who say “this is just people fighting about money” always then seem to follow it up by spitting on Kirby’s heirs by saying “they didn’t have anything to do with it”. Well, the execs and investors in Disney didn’t have anything to do with Kirby’s success either, yet they’ve made a ton of money on his ideas.

    If the alternatives we were talking about were “Kirby’s heirs get money or the characters fall into the public domain and anyone can use them” then I could see taking a “this is just about money” stance. And heck I’d even agree with it. Because it would be a choice between money and something without monetary value but that would probably lead to better things in the long run. But this is literally taking the side that it’s all about money AND the suits at Disney deserve all the money. That’s just messed up. Unless you’re being paid to shill for Disney I suppose.

  12. W.R.Printz says

    Jer,

    There are always serfs that love the baron, who think a step up for anyone else is a step back for them. They may even hate the fact that Marvel stepped up and is helping with Bill Mantalo’s expenses as well.

    Treat your artists and creators well, and the public will forgive a ton of stuff, be it Song of the South or….ok, not Song of the South. But…a lot.

  13. says

    People should keep in mind that what the Kirbys are getting could be as little as Marvel/Disney promising not to pursue them for reimbursement of legal expenses. We just don’t know, and we’re not likely to find out. On the most important point, though, Marvel/Disney prevailed. The instance-and-expense test for pre-1978 work-made-for-hire still stands.

  14. spazweez says

    Jer nailed it. Money is being made off the work and two parties want a share, but somehow, the non-corporate party is always the one painted as greedy. Yes, legally there’s the work-for-hire issue and (from what I’ve read), Kirby went in with his eyes open. But there’s what’s right and there’s what’s right. Sadly, the sense of what’s morally right seems to be dying off. It’s nice to see it get its due in this case, even if it is only because the corp got backed into a corner.

  15. says

    Does this decision also mean that we’ve also seen the last of dim-bulbs ambushing Stan Lee with questions as to Jack Kirby’s true desserts?

    It’s pretty to think so, anyway.

  16. says

    Jack Kirby himself would have wanted his family to get the fair compensation due to him for his work. His family, by all accounts, was everything to him.

    That’s good enough for me.

  17. Wallace Ryan says

    To anyone who knows anything about Jack, he worked hard to support his family which to him, was the most important thing in the world. It is only fitting that he’s able to take care of them and his grandchildren, long after he left this mortal coil!

    I think people who are complaining about the settlement are ignorant, jealous and bitter that his heirs are rich and they are not.

    Tough, I say to those losers!

  18. Wallace Ryan says

    The work for hire argument is a pile of horse sh*t as Marvel for years, when Jack was alive, would not sign him to a contract. I wish people would research the history of this case before making silly statements.

  19. says

    This is great for the Kirbys, but I was really hoping for some kind of legal precedent that could have helped the hundreds of other creators and families on whose backs media empires were/are created.

  20. Carl says

    Some of the acrimony in the comments here could perhaps be avoided simply by stating that some of us here believe the best place for characters and creations of this type, once their creators have died, is in the public domain. We need not necessarily invoke serf mentality or jealousy of the Kirby heirs.

    Also, the unexamined assumption that wealth should pass undiminished and in perpetuity to succeeding generations should, perhaps, be examined. It’s an enormous contributor to economic inequality, which, in other circumstances, many people here might not be so much in favor of.

  21. Kate Willaert says

    @Jon_in_Austin:

    I was kind of hoping for that too, even if the chance was slim.

  22. Torsten Adair says

    So, when will we see “created by” credits in Marvel comic books?

  23. says

    @Carl: Copyright terms and public domain are a whole other can of worms, but I happen to agree. I believe copyright terms should be reduced, but this case was never going to decide that. Under the circumstances we’re stuck with, I prefer an outcome where Kirby’s heirs get something to one where they get nothing.

    @Torsten: Soon, I’m willing to bet. I would be very surprised if creator credits were not part of the settlement.

    They’re also one of the few settlement terms that we, the public, are ever liable to know. Settlements are usually confidential; we don’t know what kind of financial arrangement the Kirbys have made and it is likely that we never will. (If I were to guess, I’m betting they probably accepted a similar profit-sharing arrangement to what is now the industry standard. But that’s a total shot in the dark, and my guesses are worth exactly what you pay for them.) If there were any arrangements made for credits, then of course we’ll be seeing those.

  24. zbig says

    Stan Lee has to finally admit Jack Kirby’s contributions to the creation of Marvel’s iconic characters match if not surpass Stan’s overinflated own.

  25. Ed Brubaker says

    Every issue of Captain America I wrote had Simon and Kirby listed as creators in the credits.

  26. JohnK (UK) says

    I thought every issue of Captain America, no matter who worked on it, had to have Simon & Kirby listed as creators due to a previous legal decision. Now maybe something like Books of Doom will have Kirby’s name on it. Let’s hope so. Kirby!!!

  27. MormonYoYoMan says

    Kurt, I think Scott was referring to the article that Ditko wrote for Inside Comics, a newsprint fanzine/prozine of the early 1970s. In that article (“Who Owns Original Art?” IIRC) Ditko pointed that the original deal (usually) was that the company bought the art, period.

    That there were promises made by Goodman changes the argument, but that little fact wasn’t introduced in the article.

    Though I’d choose a different route, I can completely understand Ditko’s attitude. My dad was the same way. When someone lied to him or broke a promise, dad had nothing to do with that person again.

    *jeep! & God Bless!
    —Grandpa Chet

  28. says

    @Ed: Great to know, and Cap is a biggie. But IIRC books like X-Men, Fantastic Four, et al get a “Stan Lee Presents:” but not a “Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby” on the credits page. I expect we’ll see more of those.

    Kirby’s DC work from the 1970’s had a creator credit clause; any time you see the New Gods/Darkseid or the Demon or whoever (either in comics or on Batman: TAS, Smallville, etc.) he gets a creator credit.

  29. Kurt Busiek says

    MormonYo – I thought he might have been. As I recall, that essay was about ownership of original art, which isn’t the same thing as work for hire.

    Ditko felt the company was buying the original art as well as the repro rights, but as far as I know once they started giving it back he didn’t refuse to take it.

  30. mike weber says

    That: The issue isn’t really copyright – copyright applies to the stories, and stories can be in PD while the characters in them are not – which is why you see all those cheap-ass DVDs with old Loony Tunes or the Fleischer “Superman” cartoons, but nobody is allowed to create new material featuring those characters.

    I believe the law that applies to characters is trademark, which is an entirely different kettle of garbanzos – trademark can, theoretically be renewed forever.

  31. george says

    These court cases are happening because superheroes (and particularly Marvel superheroes) are more valuable than ever, thanks to the movies … even as the sales of superhero pamphlets stagnate or decline. Batman, the industry’s sales leader, only sells about 100,000 copies a month. Others sell a good deal less. But, again thanks to the movies, they’re worth billions.

  32. JLB says

    Are the Kirby heirs getting a fair share of money or are their lawyers taking it all?

  33. Kurt Busiek says

    >> These court cases are happening because superheroes (and particularly Marvel superheroes) are more valuable than ever, thanks to the movies …>>

    Honestly, they’re happening because Congress changed the law in 1978 to grant copyright owners decades more ownership but balanced that out by allowing pre-1978 copyright sellers to reclaim copyright once a particular amount of time had passed.

    kdb

  34. Kurt Busiek says

    JLB – the lawyer will be getting a contingency, which will work out to a lot of money but by no means all (usually, contingency percentages are around 30%).

    Given the length and difficulty of the fight, I expect the Kirbys think their lawyer’s absolutely worth it.

  35. moishe pipiick says

    Lets all thank god/odin/the source that its happened that at long last it looks like one of the fundamental shames of our history has been corrected. I’m looking forward to the day that Kirby is inducted as a Disney Legend. The recognition he deserved, decades too late… But still, this is justice.

  36. MBunge says

    If it’s just about the money, I see no reason why the Kirby family shouldn’t benefit just as much as Marvel’s corporate ownership.

    As someone who cares about comics, though, I’m not a fan of some of the myth-making around Kirby v. Marvel. Jack Kirby was around to see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears what DC did to the creators of Superman. The idea that he didn’t understand and consent to his work-for-hire employment at Marvel seems a bit far-fetched.

    And the reason I care is that Kirby is usually invoked in attacking work-for-hire as a concept, despite it being an important and established practice not just in others forms of entertainment but completely different economic endeavors. I want the comic art form to thrive and I want creators to be able to make a living at creating. Work-for-hire is, I believe, necessary for both.

    Mike

  37. Bryan L says

    Mark Evanier noted on his blog that he was “real, real happy” about the settlement and said he felt Jack and Roz Kirby, if they were here, would also be “real, real happy.” He’s not saying anything else, but that suggests to me that the Kirby family came out of this in pretty good shape. And I would imagine that he’s in a position to know. So good for them.

  38. says

    1. Kirby never signed a work for hire contract when he initially worked for Marvel. Captain America was created before he worked for Timely, which became Marvel (and is now Disney/Marvel or shortened by me to DiVel). In the last round of court actions by the Kirby Estate it was Stan Lee’s testimony that Kirby ‘knew’ he was ‘working for hire’ as they had no documents from when he started there stating such. Kirby’s family should be entitled to any monies coming from the fruits of Jack’s labors. Were he not cheated in the first place his family would have been provided for with what Vel of DiVel should have been paying him all along.

  39. says

    I can’t tell if my post got posted or lost; blast. Trying again (and apologies if the first post appears after all and I end up with two posts):

    @mike weber: It’s true that characters’ names and appearances are covered by trademark, but the stories they appear in are covered by copyright. A few years back Dynamite published some comics based on Edgar Rice Burroughs works that had passed into the public domain without using their titles (they called them Lord of the Jungle and Warlord of Mars, not Tarzan, John Carter, or Princess of Mars) and the Burroughs Estate sued. However, it was settled out-of-court and Dynamite wound up licensing the rights from the Estate after all, so there’s not really any precedent to follow there.

    It’s possible to use characters from public-domain works while avoiding trademark infringement. I suppose the best example in comics would be the Golden Age Daredevil, who’s appeared in multiple comics from multiple companies (including Dynamite and Image) but can’t, of course, be referred to as “Daredevil” on the cover.

  40. tony savage says

    Kirby’s family fought for what was rightly his, Stan has been making money off of Kirby’s work and now they triumphed by proving Kirby created the marvel universe under the art directer Stan lee.
    because Kirby was in house and giving his work to Stan he proved a different version of the copy right he wasn’t freelance out source he was working for timely and marvel not a freelance for hire is the way they settled because they actually were suing for stop usage of all characters that is related to what Kirby created which if won would’ve stop the presses.

  41. Truthman says

    Marc Toberoff of Toberoff & Associates, the Kibry state’s attorney, stated after the settlement that “This is precedent that needs to change” (crf. Alison Frankel, Marvel settlement with Kirby leaves freelancers’ rights in doubt at http://blogs.reuters.com/alison-frankel/2014/09/29/marvel-settlement-with-kirby-leaves-freelancers-rights-in-doubt/).

    This undoubtedly means the ill-advised Kirbys finally realized -or simply feared- they could only lose once more and without any chance to appeal and asked for the settlement. They can be happy they’ve not ended losing their shirts and have become a handful of Mickey Mouse caps and some tickets to Disneyworld.

    In any instance, they’ve been a clear instance of greed and of the inability to understand under which legal circumstances Jack Kirby worked of all his life. Stan Lee always understood it, and that’s why his life’s been so different from Kirby’s. It also explain, too, why he won when he sued Marvel.

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