Friday, September 25, 2009

Unpacking The Kirby Reclamation Case; Comic Book Resources, 9/25/09

Kiel Phegley, Comic Book Resources; Unpacking The Kirby Reclamation Case:

"From the Fantastic Four to Iron Man and even to Spider-Man (a character most comics historians generally don't attribute to Kirby's pen beyond a possible hand in design), almost the entirety of what many fans both hardcore and casual would consider the core of the Marvel Universe are named in the papers, which were served both to Marvel Entertainment, their prospective buyer the Disney Corporation and Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and more companies who have profited from major adaptations of the Marvel characters.

However, while the idea that the Kirby estate may regain a piece of the copyrights for the superheroes has kept talk and speculation high, only a small part of the conversation has gotten to the heart of what's at stake in the filing. While part of this comes from fact that very little about the case has made it to the public eye just yet (when reached via e-mail by CBR, the Kirby's attorney Marc Toberoff declined to comment), many of the issues surrounding copyright law and this case in particular can be confusing to those without law degrees. "In reading some of the articles that are out there, I keep wanting to send notes to people saying, 'No, that's not right,'" laughed intellectual property lawyer and comic rights expert Michael Lovitz of Los Angeles firm Buchalter Nemer. CBR contacted Lovitz (who aside from hosting the annual "Comic Book Law School" panels at Comic-Con International in San Diego also represents comic artists like Colleen Doran and Bob Layton) to help parse out the details of the Kirbys' attempt at reclaiming rights from Marvel.

Lovitz stressed that, at this point, there is no lawsuit involved in the proceedings, and for now neither side has to do much of anything for a number of years. The notice of reclamation filed by the Kirby family only indicates that they do intend to lay claim to a share of the Marvel characters once the initial period of copyright would have ended, which for the individual heroes and villains in question could fall somewhere between 2017 and 2019. "And then they could exercise their rights for the remainder of the extended period [if they win]. They could sell it to the same people, sell it to someone else or do something with it themselves."

"The way the trademark statute is set up, each time the law was rewritten and the term of protection extended, there was an addition that said, 'We recognize that when a creator goes to a big company and sells a property to them, they're not in the best bargaining position,'" Lovitz explained, citing the current case of Jerry Siegel's family over the rights to he and Joe Shuster's Superman as a prime example. "They made an original bargain back then for 56 years of protection. If I write a novel and sell it to [you as a company] back in the '30s, I know the maximum amount of time you'll be able to capitalize on it is 56 years, and I take that into consideration when I make the bargain with you. What the people who lobbied congress said was, 'That's fine, but you're extending from 56 to 75 and then later 95 years of protection for those older works. They only bargained for 56, so you should give the original creators the ability to terminate the transfer.' That's what's going on here: a termination of the transfer of rights."

The major difference between the Kirby case and the Siegel case (which, since its moved into an actual lawsuit with Warner Brothers, has been handled with much success by Toberoff) is that in the case of Superman no one ever argued that Siegel and Shuster had not created the character independently and then sold it to DC....

However, the Kirby case holds many more complications as the process of figuring out what exactly the family might be owed involves placing a concrete legal answer onto one of the great comic fan debates of all time: Who exactly created what and when at Marvel Comics?...

Ultimately, the future of the legal rights of Jack Kirby and Marvel both will make for exciting reading for comics fans and legal types, especially since the future may only hold more and more cases of creators and their families trying to reclaim their classic characters. "You always read these little comments of people saying, 'How interesting that in ten years you could have Time Warner doing a Spider-Man movie and Disney doing a Superman movie?' " laughed Lovitz. "And how ironic that the company that was one of the biggest proponents of the copyright extension, Disney, may find itself being burned because of those extensions that gave in the rights of reversion?""

1 comment:

Ziggy Starbucks said...

way to go, stealing and reprinting copyrighted materials on a blog about copyrights... wow, that seems smart. lmfao.