A judge has dropped a lawsuit against Marvel by the heirs of Jack Kirby. The suit was based on the fact that Kirby’s work, including the creation of many of Marvel’s main superheroes, was done on a work-for-hire basis and therefore there is no secondary claim to copyright for the family. It’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the basic idea.
As big as loss as the Millionaire case was for Disney, this is a bigger win. Disney spent $4.8 Billion buying the rights to the Marvel characters, and the payback for that includes the profits that movies and licensing from those characters. Disney said all along that they had confidence that this lawsuit had no merit, and now it appears they were right.
According to this review of the judges opinion, the facts are clearly in Disney’s favor.
Judge McMahon provided a detailed review of the disputed Marvel works, and concluded that the Kirbys’ evidence did not make “so much as a dent” in the assertion that Mr. Kirby had worked for hire, and thus did not own the copyrights.
Disney’s official statement so far has been a simple, “We are pleased that in this case, the judge has confirmed Marvel’s ownership rights.”
I do feel a bit of a pang of sorrow for the family of Jack Kirby. The ability for copyright owners to reclaim some rights has been an important way for some families to guarantee the heritage of their relative’s work. But just not in this case.