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Spider Bites Back: The Fight Over Who Owns Spiderman Escalates

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 18, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As discussed in a prior post, this past January, Marvel comics sued the estate of the late Jack Kirby to establish its ownership of the copyrights in Kirby's most famous comic book creations, including Spiderman. Now the representatives of Kirby's estate are biting back with a suit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The estate hopes to terminate the company's ownership of the copyrights in the Marvel heroes and receive some of the profits made off of Kirby's work as damages.

THR, Esq. reports that he suit filed by Marvel, the comic (now owned by Disney) asserted that Jack Kirby's work done for the company in the 1950's and 1960's was a work for hire. A work for hire gives ownership of any intellectual property (copyrights, patents) not to the creator, but to his or her employer. Kirby's representatives say that during the time Kirby worked for Marvel collaborating with other artists such as Stan Lee and that the comic relied on many freelancers and no work for hire obligation was created. The estate wants the chance to license competing versions of the heroes constantly swinging into theaters and games near you, including not just Spiderman, but the Incredible Hulk, X-Men and Wolverine as well.

THR also notes a little something extra the estate slipped into the Complaint. According to the suit, two of the Marvel based movies, "The Incredible Hulk" (2008) and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009), misrepresented the origin (no irony intended) of the work. The plaintiffs claim that Kirby was not properly identified as being the author or co-author of the works the movies were based on. Plaintiffs are seeking "up to three times the damages they sustained and will sustain," a number not specified but which will be well, super in size; "Wolverine" made almost $375 million in worldwide gross profits.

The Complaint does not specify total damages sought, but given the successful projects in past years based on Marvel heroes, it could be in the tens of millions. Of course, the Mouse isn't going to take any of this lying down. Disney spent $4 billion to acquire Marvel and will be sure to defend its investment with all the superhuman might it can muster. Stick around after the commercials, there is more to come.

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