Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

March 16, 2010

A Few Notes On The Kirby Family Suing For Termination Of Copyrights

* you can look at the new filing here. You should read it; it's not so bad.

* your plaintiffs are: Lisa Kirby, both as an individual and as a trustee of something called The Rosalind Kirby Trust; Barbara J. Kirby; Neal L. Kirby; Susan M. Kirby. Your defendants are the usual Marvel companies, plus the usual John Does, plus Disney.

* this comes on the heels of a December lawsuit from Marvel seeking a set-aside on September request for copyright termination on 45 Marvel characters.

image* I'm not sure I understand the inclusion of characters like Rawhide Kid, that were revamped under Kirby but actually precede his return to the restaurant. I'm also not sure why we get a Wertham-driven history lesson or have to hear about the art returns, but I'm certainly not a lawyer.

* I think it's fair to say that a lot of this will come down what the legal proceeding eventually decides was Jack Kirby's relationship to Marvel while doing the work in question, whether he was a freelancer or whether he was in the kind of supervised relationship that many feel proves a work-for-hire style relationship. That should prove... interesting, especially if it comes from really nailing down Kirby's relationship with Stan Lee and Martin Goodman during the Marvel surge.

* as has been the case with Stan Lee's various legal maneuverings vis-a-vis Marvel -- and now even vis-a-vis SLM -- what was said in later agreements and how those arrangements could conceivably have an impact on how the court sees the arrangement that existed.

* finally, I usually get more upset at the fans that rage against family members suing on behalf of a deceased family members as greedy. That's still a horrible thing to say about a person of whom you actually know very little, and I still think in many cases it's a combination reaction fueled by the fear of losing one's favorite superheroes and the guilt/entitlement a certain kind of fan may feel by those companies' efforts to "share" the characters with fans.

That contempt is still there, trust me. My main objection, to be honest, is the lack of intellectual rigor it takes to presume that some violation is occurring by seeking this kind of legal outcome, because a) you don't like it, b) you see some hidden message like they've included Spider-Man whose creative pedigree is much more in doubt than that of many other characters. Just stop it. I'll argue the morality involved concerning comics' long-term relationships with creators like Jack Kirby with anyone who'd care to argue the other side, and I'm confident I'd win. But let's not presume that this is something being tried in Nerd Court. What I'm saying is that whether or not there's an ability to sue on these grounds and whether or not this suit is justified is exactly what gets resolved with these motions up to and including a trial and appeals.

Still, I do see more people looking at the Kirby Family's side of things, if not outright rooting for them. That gives me just enough breathing room to feel, well, sorry for people that can't see past a money motivation here or in similar cases, or that can't put a money motivation in its proper and relative context. In the end, these issues won't be resolved according to the devotion of comic book fans or the certainty of creators rights advocates; it'll turn on the law.
posted 2:00 pm PST | Permalink

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