Marvel Kirby settlement

As of today, Marvel Comics and the estate of Jack Kirby are friends again. Or, at least, they’re not fighting out a dispute in court.

Kirby was the creator or co-creator of many of Marvel’s biggest characters including The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and the original X-Men. But his work for Marvel was under a work-for-hire contract. Despite being one of the brightest talents who built Marvel’s greatest age, Kirby ended up with no copyright ownership for his characters. Now, after several lower court battles over Kirby’s rights, and an impending date with the Supreme Court, Marvel and the Kirby Estate have reached a settlement.

The two parties issued a joint statement:

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.

We don’t know the terms of the settlement, nor how this will impact any of Marvel’s future plans. And this probably wasn’t done out of a sudden change of heart on Marvel’s part. More likely the company looked at the potential for a Supreme Court ruling to go against the company and thought that a settlement was the best way to ensure it retains control of all the Avengers characters and other staples of the Marvel line, both in comics and on movie screens.

Jack Kirby passed in 1994, and it is his heirs that will most directly benefit from this deal. But it will echo through the comics world. Similar dissatisfaction with work-for-hire contracts have prompted other big deals in comics before, such as the founding of Image Comics.

This settlement also ensures that other companies with Marvel licenses can rest easy. Deadline notes that Lisa Kirby, Neal Kirby, Susan Kirby and Barbara Kirby were seeking a Supreme Court ruling to assert rights over 262 works Kirby created or co-created between 1958 and 1963. Marvel and Disney obviously were named, but so were Fox, Sony, Universal, and Paramount.

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