Marvel and the estate of Jack Kirby have settled a long-running copyright ownership dispute concerning characters he co-created in the 1960s, including The Incredible Hulk and The Fantastic Four, the two sides declared on Friday.
Kirby's litigation, which invoked a change in the law made in the 1976 Copyright Act, sought to terminate his grant of copyright to Marvel for more than 250 works published over a five-year span. Marvel contended that Kirby had performed the work "for hire," initiated by Marvel and under the editorial direction of a staff employee, editor Stan Lee. Copyright assignments to work performed "For hire" cannot be terminated under the 1976 law.
Yet Kirby contended that the law in the late 1950s and early 1960s meant "for hire" could only apply to traditional employees and not to freelancers, which he was at that time.
In addition to having significant impact on some of the most recognizable comic book characters — which appear annually in summer blockbuster movies grossing millions, among other works — Kirby's litigation could have had broad ramifications in numerous other creative enterprises. Kirby's estate had sought a Supreme Court review of appellate and district court decisions that had found in favor of Marvel.
Kirby was an enormously influential figure in Marvel Comics' early 1960s rebirth, working with Lee to create The Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, and the original X-Men, all of which debuted before the end of 1963.