Marvel Sues to Block Heirs From Reclaiming Spider-Man, Doctor Strange Copyrights
Marvel filed four lawsuits on Friday to prevent comic book creators and their heirs from taking control of the copyrights of such important characters as Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.
The move comes after heirs to several Marvel writers dozens of layoffs at the U.S. Copyright Office to terminate Marvel's licenses to the characters.
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In the lawsuits, Marvel argues that the characters were created under "employment contracts" and that the heirs do not have valid rights to the copyrights.
Marvel points to a key case of Jack Kirby, who helped create "The X-Men", "Thor" and "Iron Man". In this case, Kirby's heirs attempted to reclaim the copyright on his creations, but federal courts sided with Marvel and found the characters were made under work-for-hire agreements.
Marvel's attorneys, led by Daniel Petrocelli, say these cases are "virtually identical circumstances."
Marvel filed lawsuits against Lawrence D. Lieber, Patrick S. Ditko, Michelle Hart-Rico and Buz Donato Rico III, and Keith A. Dettweiler.
Ditko is the brother of Steve Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. Additional resignations were filed on August 26th by Gene Colan's children, Nanci Solo and Erik Colan.
The 1976 Copyright Act allows heirs, in certain circumstances, to terminate a license or transfer of a copyrighted work - such as a comic - by means of a properly executed notice.
Patrick S. Ditko's resignation relates to the first appearances of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange in 1962 and 1963, respectively. Marvel specifies his resignation as June 2023 as the end date.
Nanci Solo and Erik Colan have terminated Marvel on dozens of comics including "Marvel Super-Heroes" Volume 1, # 12, which includes the first appearance of Captain Marvel and dozens of early issues of "Captain America". Comics in which Falcon appears for the first time.
There has been an ongoing debate about how comic book creators were unfairly rewarded in the face of the cinematic giants who inspired their creations.
When Ditko died in 2018, reports suggested his estate was worth only $ 1.3 million, despite having helped create one of the most famous cartoon characters in the world.
It is a practice that continues to this day. Ed Brubaker, who created many of the storylines used in "Captain America: Civil War" - including the character from "The Winter Soldier" played by Sebastian Stan on screen - spoke earlier this year about how he was treated by Marvel, both in terms of additional compensation (which he suggested as being so paltry that it was offensive) and at the premiere of the film where he was forced to see an "overflow" cinema as opposed to the one with the cast of the film and Marvel executives.
"I did more with sag residuals than I did with creating the character for my one line that was cut off," he reportedly told Kevin Smith on his Fatman Beyond podcast.
However, comic book creators had to face an uphill battle to reclaim copyrights. In 2012, a federal court ruled that Superman co-creator Joe Shuster's sister couldn't terminate Warner Bros.'s copyright grant in the character due to a 1992 agreement between the studio and Shuster's heirs that prevented her from pursuing the termination .
The exact nature of the Ditko and Colan's heirs' resignation attempts similarly depends on what agreements they - and their predecessors - may have made with Marvel and whether these supersede copyright law.
A spokesman for Patrick S. Ditko said the family would not comment. A Marvel spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
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