Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Kirby Heirs Are Not Suing Anybody

Once again, I have to use the "I'm in Japan so I don't hear about these things until after everyone else has already beaten them to death and then I come in a kick the corpses" defense. Which, to be honest, is no defense at all. But I just learned from the Onion A/V Club the Jack Kirby estate is suing Marvel/Disney or whatever it's called now for the copyright reassignment of all the characters Jack created or co-created there and just as quickly learned there's no lawsuit involved in this at all.

Here's what the Los Angeles Times (a newspaper, if you can believe that!) has to say about all this:

Under copyright law, creators and co-creators can seek to regain copyrights they previously assigned to a company 56 years after first publication and can give notice of their intentions to do so up to 10 years before that.

Kirby's children would be eligible to claim their father's share of the copyright of the Fantastic Four in 2017, while the Hulk would come up in 2018 and X-Men in 2019. The copyrights would then run for 39 more years before expiring, after which the characters would enter the public domain under current law.

I know nothing whatsoever about copyright law and, if it's even possible, less than that about any working agreements Jack Kirby might have had with Marvel when he worked there in the 1960s, but not knowing anything about something has rarely-- if ever-- stopped me from giving an opinion on it.

I checked with a Guild navigator and he told me in no uncertain terms, "The comics must flow."

Paul Maud'Dib, on the other hand, maintains, "He who has the power to destroy a thing, controls a thing."

Even now the Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV has established a beachhead from space on the lawn of the Kirby estate where he expects to confront the King's heirs over this situation and ensure the protection of our precious Fantastic Four, Mighty Thor and Uncanny X-Men lest we lose them forever and the very fabric of our interstellar empire of dorkiness be torn asunder.

These characters are all trademarked as well. I have no idea how that plays into all of this stuff, either. In the immortal words of Benjamin J. Grimm, "Sheesh!"

It seems the Kirby heirs are simply asking for a share in the copyrights for various characters, not complete ownership. Even if they're granted that share, I don't see anything in this that would prevent Disney or Marvel Entertainment from continuing to exploit Kirby's work for every dollar, pound or yen they can make from it. We'll still have our comics and movies because there's no way Marvel or Disney will swallow the poison pill and kill these properties just because they no longer get 100% of the loot.

According to the LA Times:

Should their claims stand, the Kirby children could choose to assign their portion of the rights to current copyright holders for a fee or sell them to a new licensee. The actions could possibly benefit Disney if the Kirby children were to take movie rights to Spider-Man or the X-Men, currently held in perpetuity by Sony and Fox, respectively, and sell them to Disney, for instance.

I don't understand why Spider-Man would be included in this. I'm pretty sure that was more Steve Ditko's baby-- Kirby took a crack at it and Stan Lee apparently hated what he was doing and gave the assignment to Ditko, who made it into the Spidey we know and love today-- and he seems to want nothing to do with it whatsoever. Objectivist philosphy or something.

At any rate, if Iunderstand this correctly, Jack Kirby's family stands to get at least a little bit of all the Marvel moolah, which is up in the billions of dollars now. Jolly Jack made a lot of other people quite a bit of money with his ideas and his labor. So I firmly believe a percentage of this money should've been his family's all along. And I furthermore believe the same should be done for Stan Lee and his family for Lee's part in coming up with all these characters. And Steve Ditko and his, whether he wants it or not.

But that's just me siding with labor over capital, especially when capital in this case consists of an impossibly huge multi-national entertainment corporation that could buy and sell me practically an infinite number of times and so certainly doesn't need my hysterical defense of its massive profit-taking. And siding with the creators over the suits. And also because I love Jack Kirby and all who sail with him.

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