Heirs to comic book legend Jack Kirby sent 45 notices of copyright termination to Marvel Entertainment, prospective Marvel buyer Disney, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and others studios that that hold licensed media rights to Marvel characters, this according to a Sunday afternoon report published on the New York Times website.
The Times reports the legal notices expressed an intent to regain copyrights to some Kirby co-creations as early as 2014, this according to a statement from Toberoff & Associates, a Los Angeles firm that helped win a court ruling last year returning a share of the copyright in Superman to heirs of the character’s co-creator, Jerry Siegel.
Mr. Toberoff declined to elaborate on the statement reached for comments Sunday by the Times. According to the newspaper, a Marvel spokesperson had no comment, but Disney replied in a statement, “The notices involved are an attempt to terminate rights seven to 10 years from now, and involve claims that were fully considered in the acquisition.” Fox, Sony, Paramount and Universal reportedly had no comment.
As the Times reports points out, Disney's acquisition of Marvel is far from a done deal and must still be approved by Marvel shareholders. Wall Street is apparently already speculating that due to a complicated array of various rights agreements, shareholders may worry that Disney will face difficulty immediately exploiting Marvel's most valuable intellectual property.
Cited in the story is the fact that Sony holds the film rights to Spider-Man in perpetuity.The proposed Disney deal could give creators or their heirs new reason to exploit United States copyright law to stake a claim.
Under U.S. law, an author or his or her heirs can begin a process to regain copyrights a certain period of years after the original grant. While the report did not cite what characters were cited in the termination notices, if Kirby’s family were to gain the copyright to a co-created character like the Fantastic Four or the Incredible Hulk, they could become entitled to a share of profits from films or other properties featuring the character, or obtain the rights to sell characters independently of Marvel, Disney, or the various studios that have licensed the Marvel characters.