By Courtney Key
A legal battle poised to head to the Supreme Court was forestalled Friday, as the heirs of legendary comic creator Jack Kirby reached a settlement with Marvel.
The details of the settlement have not been publicly released, but Marvel and the Kirby estate issued a joint statement regarding the decision.
“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,” the statement read.
At issue in the dispute was whether the heirs of Kirby, who died in 1994, had the right in 2009 to issue termination notices on 262 works that Kirby had a hand in creating between 1958 and 1963. The notices went out to Marvel, Fox, Paramount, Sony, and other studios which have made films based on Kirby’s characters.
The Kirby family argued that the termination notices were valid because Kirby held a copyright interest in those works. Marvel’s position was that Kirby, as a work-for-hire artist, had no copyright interest in the characters. Marvel and Disney filed suit against the heirs in 2010 to invalidate the termination notices. A lower court ruled for Marvel in 2011, and an appeal by the heirs to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals was subsequently denied.
Had the appeal by the Kirbys to the Supreme Court been successful, the heirs would have been entitled to possibly millions of dollars of royalties on movies such as Iron Man and The Avengers, and Marvel would have had to negotiate with them for the right to use Kirby’s characters in future films.
In addition, repercussions would have been felt across the comics industry as work-for-hire creators suddenly gained a basis for claiming copyright interest in their works.