Marvel Entertainment filed Friday a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate some 45 copyright termination notices filed in September by the heirs of comic book artist Jack Kirby.
Kirby was the artist who collaborated with editor and writer Stan Lee to create in the 1960s most of Marvel’s best-known superheroes, including the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and the X-Men.
In September, shortly after it was announced that Disney would acquire Marvel, the heirs filed the notices, saying the heirs intended to exercise their right under current copyright law to terminate the transfer of the original copyright effective with the end of the original term of copyright. Copyright allowed for two copyright terms of 28 years before 1978, when new longer terms of copyright took effect. That means the the rights to the first of Kirby’s superhero efforts for Marvel, 1961’s Fantastic Four #1, could be terminated as early as 2017.
In filing the suit, Marvel argues that the work Kirby did for Marvel qualifies as work made for hire, and therefore cannot be reclaimed under the law.
A similar claim made by the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel has been successful and a trial has been scheduled to determine how much DC Comics owes the Siegels from the time the transfer was terminated in 1999. The case of Superman was clearly not work for hire, as Siegel and his collaborate Joe Shuster created the Man of Steel on their own and spent several years trying to get their comic published before DC bought it to appear in 1938’s Action Comics #1.