Marvel and the Jack Kirby estate have reportedly reached a settlement in their long-time legal dispute over the rights to the characters and concepts the late Jack Kirby created and co-created for the publisher.
A just-released joint announcement reportedly reads:
“Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes, and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honoring Mr. Kirby’s significant role in Marvel’s history.”
At issue in the legal action was whether Kirby held copyright on the characters and concepts he authored as an independent contractor. At the time that Jack Kirby helped create so many of Marvel's most prominent characters, he was not actually employed by the company, even though his frequent partner Stan Lee was.
The Kirby family's legal battles against Marvel date back to 2009, when the Kirby heirs issued termination notices to Sony, Disney, and others who were making films based on Kirby characters like Captain America, The Fantastic Four and Iron Man. After attempts by Marvel to reach an agreement with the Kirby family failed, the company sued to invalidate those notices.
When lower courts repeatedly ruled against the Kirbys, they asked the Supreme Court earlier this year to decide whether a court can constitutionally take copyrights authored by Kirby as an independent contractor and hand them to Marvel by re-designating them "works for hire." Was Marvel an "employer" if Kirby wasn't actually an "employee?" Was their payment for that work the same as purchasing the rights to those properties?
A preliminary conference by the nine Justices of the Supreme Court was scheduled for September 29, when they were expected to consider whether they would actually hear the case. By settling the case out of court before it can even get to that point, Marvel/Disney avoids the possible Supreme Court consideration of the "work for hire" questions.