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Spiderman Attacked! Marvel Sues Authors' Heirs over Copyrights

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on January 22, 2010 10:10 AM

POW! Marvel Comics has come out swinging against the heirs of the creator of Spiderman and other beloved heroes as revealed in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in New York on Monday. The heirs of artist Jack Kirby, creator of Spiderman as well as such franchise fodder as the comic book heroes Fantastic Four, X-Men and the Incredible Hulk, to name but a few, have been peppering Marvel with notices that, under the Copyright Act, the rights in Kirby's characters are due to revert back to the author (or, as in this case his estate), in 2014. Marvel seeks a judgment by the court finding the notices have no effect.

According to a statement by Marvel attorney John Turitzin, "Everything about Kirby's relationship with Marvel shows that his contributions were works made for hire and that all the copyright interests in them belong to Marvel." Although the applicable law for the characters, who according to the Complaint, were created from 1958 to 1963 before the current Copyright Act of 1976 went into effect, would be found in the 1909 version of the Act, the main issue remains the same: were Spidey and the gang created as a works for hire and thus belong solely to Marvel?

A work for hire is defined as a work done by an employee for her employer within the normal scope of her duties, or as a work especially commissioned as part of a collaborative work such as a movie. This issue often turns on the question of whether or not the author of the work was an employee or an independent contractor. To answer that question, courts look at the relationship between the parties. If the employer exerted control over such things as where, when, and how the work was produced and paid for, they will most often find it to be an employer/employee relationship and consider the employer the "author" for copyright considerations. 

The Kirby heirs seem bent on avenging what they see as old wrongs. "The Kirby children intend to vigorously defend against Marvel's claims in the hope of finally vindicating their father's work, said Kirby clan lawyer Marc Toberoff. "Sadly, Jack died without proper compensation, credit or recognition for his lasting creative contributions."

Kids, be sure not to miss the next installment of this exciting adventure in copyright land!

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