The heirs of Jack Kirby, the legendary artist who co-created superhero classics for Marvel, are launching a lawsuit assault on Disney and Marvel.
The “custody battle,” as the New York Times puts it, signals a new era for media companies thinking they can spin out tons of media franchises off of old assets. Intellectual property lawyers are about to have a field day:
Complicating matters are licensing agreements Marvel has made over the years with rival studios for characters Mr. Kirby helped to create. Sony holds long-term movie rights to Spider-Man; 20th Century Fox has the equivalent for the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Universal Studios holds theme park rights to Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. And more films stemming from Mr. Kirby’s work are coming: Marvel is spending hundreds of millions to bring Thor and the Avengers to theatres.
If the Kirbys succeed in their reclamation effort — and that’s still an enormous if — they would be entitled to a share of profits from new works based on any of the copyrighted material. And the four Kirby heirs (Lisa, Neal, Barbara and Susan) could acquire a nonexclusive right to initiate new projects based on characters partially created by their father, as long as they accounted to Marvel for its share in any of them.
“This is like the Superman case times five,” said Mr. Toberoff, who predicts a three- to five-year court battle, including appeals, if the case proceeds.
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