NYT’s Brent Staples re: Kirby and Disney/Marvel

Brent Staples, who wrote a wonderful piece in the New York Times in 2007 titled “Jack Kirby, Comic Book Genius, Is Finally Remembered,” has written “Marvel Superheroes and the Fathers of Invention.”

I posted to the Museum’s Discussion group on June 8th:


Obviously, I am not a lawyer or a copyright expert, but it seems that the case hinges on the legal state of what appeared on the page via a pencil in Kirby’s hand during those years.

It looks to me like the Marvel/Disney argument is a work-for-hire argument – that the rights to whatever Kirby put on paper were owned, at the moment he created it, by Martin Goodman who transferred to Perfect Film, which renamed to Cadence Industries, then… bla bla bla Disney.

And that the Kirby argument is that the rights to whatever Jack Kirby put to paper were owned, at the moment he created it, by Kirby, who then assigned his rights to Goodman… Disney.

This is, as I understand it, the scope of the laws that have been put in place by our US legislators, which allows creators, or their estates, to terminate the assignment of those rights a determined number of years after the works’ creation.

Look again at the back of Dick Ayers’ check from 1974. A scan is attached, hope you can see it. The text that the company stamped on the back is about the signer assigning rights to the work to Magazine Management. That means the creator/signer had rights to the work when they created it. This is important!!!!

Work-for-hire means the creator/signer is an employee who has no rights to the work when they created it. Marvel’s text on the back of the checks after 1976 (Ayers’ 1986 is also attached) does not mention any assignment of rights.

Was Jack was an employee of Goodman’s in the early 1960s? This is why there is all the talk of health insurance, vacation time, supplies, pay for rejected work, in the filings…

I re-recommend “Who owns Light Man?” an informative podcast by real, serious, hardcore US copyright experts/lawyers: http://goo.gl/k11LA


5 thoughts on “NYT’s Brent Staples re: Kirby and Disney/Marvel

  1. Erik

    I still think a settlement would be the best course for the family to pursue. I just don’t trust the lawyer they have. Kirby indeed didn’t get his due, but I can’t help look at the situation and not see the industry devastated if the Kirby family wins. Yes, Marvel might be allowed to still make comics by paying royalties — but comics are less profitable than ever, with 2.99 and 3.99 price tags only keeping things going. If the Kirby family did win, I can’t see Marvel continuing to make comics like they did, if at all. That’s going to mean a lot of writers and artists out of work. That’s only assuming the family wins unconditionally. It could be even worse trying to figure out what actually would belong to the family, versus the 40 to 50 years of stories made since then. That much legal tape would also lead to a change in Marvel comics, and weather they are made at all.

    I sort of look at this situation, how massively complex it will be if they win, versus how much time has passed – and can’t see why a settlement wouldn’t let everyone walk away happy. I know settlements aren’t the emotional climax many would want, to see Kirby’s rights finally enforced – but I can’t imagine the prolonged litigation Marvel will throw the family’s way will be worth it in the end, either financially or emotionally.

    I could be very wrong in my opinion, though. I can only look at the situation from afar and see all the legal wrangling. But I just don’t see why a settlement wouldn’t be the best course of action. All I see is the lawyer at the middle of both this case and the Superboy case getting rich off of this. And Kirby’s case seems like a better case – and I know we all hate corporations, and I know they are indeed often unwilling to settle cases – but the entire foundation of the industry is at stake. I don’t see how a settlement wouldn’t have been offered in these circumstances — except for that all-poisoning element of the lawyer, who suddenly has two prolonged and high-profile comic-rights cases to live off of.

    I really don’t mean any offense. I really do sympathize with how Kirby was treated. I keep looking at my opinion of this case, and how it’s contrary to my love of the man’s art. Both cases have really good points — even the Superboy case, where I was positive Superboy couldn’t be interpreted any other way than as being derivative of Superman, that issue turned out not to be as black and white as I thought. It was over-reaching to include the likes of Spider-Man in the Kirby case, but looking at things I can’t dismiss the fact that Kirby did get shafted at every single point during his carrier. YET – untangling the mess of 40 to 50 year’s worth of rights is a daunting task, even if you’re in the right. Add to that Marvel will unsurprisingly fight this case every step of the way… Settling would just solve everything.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe building this case is all leading to just that; a settlement. But I still see that suspicious lawyer at the center of it.

  2. ILYA

    (expletive) the industry, I’m kind of devastated that the Kirby family gets no redress at all. As I understand it, they see NO money from the lavish reprints of the comics themselves that surface almost weekly (although DC Warner *may* have a better track record on this than Marvel Disney, i don’t know). As I understand it, the family sees NO money from the multi-million dollar movies based around those same concepts, which surely originated with Jack. Am I wrong? (I take as my understanding comments made during a Tribute Panel a few years back, and as reported in the JKCollector magazine). Even a cent in every dollar would make the world of difference and recognise his contribution – but if Marvel and its assigns and associates admitted to even one cent, I guess they would have to admit the whole, their entire indebtedness to Kirby’s pencil.

    This summary judgement was based on the letter of the law, in protection of corporate wealth, when basic moral decency tells us Marvel owes Kirby (and his heirs) – we all know the evidence and see the truth of that around us every day. I remember reading how Jack couldn’t bear to go into a toy store and see his characters everywhere, knowing that he had no share in the enormous profits they generated. How would he feel today, walking down almost any street, past any movie-house? So I thrash around the internet looking for some kind of direction on the ramifications of this, pondering how I can respond as a consumer. This is like the Red Skull wins the day for all eternity. This is like Loki wins. The Abomination… – It goes against every grain of the comics I grew up on (at least the Lee and Kirby stories. Kirby solo saw the bigger picture, reality’s hardbitten, hardbiting true face). So now what I do with them, with my hobby, my job in comics? How should I feel? Evil and corruption wins and has the law on its side. Heroism and innovation counts for nothing. Creators rights are null and void in the comics industry, and it appears always will be until the current model – entirely corrupt – finally withers and dies. That, surely, is what devastates the industry. Even should it stagger on, it is dead inside.

  3. patrick ford

    You are exactly right Rand, Marvel’s case is very weak, so weak that Stan Lee has become the nexus of their case. It can’t be a comfortable feeling for Lee, and if the case goes to trial it’s not going to get any more comfortable.

  4. Rand HOPPE

    I don’t think the industry will be devastated if either the Kirby or the Siegel/Shuster families get their due, whether through a settlement or a court decision, but what do I know?

    Additionally, Erik, I’m encouraged that the Kirby family has one of the leading copyright and entertainment lawyers working on their behalf.

    – Rand

  5. kichigai

    it seems very transparent, the gross liberties that have been taken by Marvel of Jacks’ creations. New films are so far removed from the original concepts.. they are nearly moribund of his style. Jack, you were my fathers’ hero before being my own- he has passed on as well but truth be told we only knew KIRBY and never cared whom published what. I have not bought a single DC or Marvel comic book in nearly 20 years, they are too slick and too predictable. Not to mention uninspiring.

    Best & kind regards to the Kirby family, Jack continues to inspire!


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