Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Of Copyrights and Inheritance
Here is the basic gist of the story. Jack Kirby was one of the most influential creators the comic book industry has ever seen. In the 1930s, he co-created Captain America with Joe Simon. In the 1960s, it was the partnership between Kirby and Stan Lee that brought superheroes back from the verge of extinction. Lee and Kirby completely revolutionized the way people thought about superheroes, a revolution that has continued to dominate the industry for about half a century.
Kirby had a major role in the creation of a number of Marvel's most popular characters, including the X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man, among others.
Back in Kirby's day, publishers were not kind to their creators. Compared to what these characters and comics were making for the publisher, the creators were paid a pittance. Creators were frequently screwed out of ownership rights.
These days, publishers now have work-for-hire agreements. These agreements state that any work created for the publisher remains the property of the publisher and the creators have no claim to the copyrights. That's all well and good, because creators are told what they can and cannot expect from the company and they agree that this is the way it is.
This wasn't the case several decades ago. The majority of Kirby's creations were done with no work-for-hire agreement, nor was he an employee of Marvel -- he was a freelance artist. Which meant everything he co-created, he owned half the rights to. In the 70s, Kirby agreed to sell his creations to Marvel. Under the law at that time, the copyrights were set to expire in 2014. A few years after this deal was made, Congress extended the time. But they added a provision that anyone who signed an agreement prior to the extension could file a termination of copyright for 2014.
Kirby is sadly, no longer with us. He died before he could see his creations returned to him (and Marvel has still not returned the majority of artwork he did for them, which is his property). Kirby's heirs are now attempting to reclaim the characters on his behalf.
Now here is the part where I get angry. Not at Marvel or Disney -- they're doing exactly what was expected of them. They're trying to fight the Kirby estate, and I imagine it'll eventually end in a settlement where Kirby's heirs receive royalties for his creations.
No, what makes me angry is the attitude of the so-called "fans." Look at the comment section of almost any web article which discusses this legal battle. It's absolutely disgusting the way people are standing up and defending Marvel and Disney's right to screw over creators. Some of the common complaints I've heard is that the Kirby heirs are greedy bastards, that they don't deserve a single cent because they didn't create the characters, and that they're only trying to get the copyrights now because of the success of the Marvel movies.
First off, on the latter -- that's absolutely ridiculous. The Kirbys waited until now because they had no choice! This was the earliest they could take action, according to the law. They are not exploiting any loophole in the law, they are exercising a right specifically provided by Congress for a situation like this.
Second, the idea that the Kirbys are greedy and that they don't deserve anything. I wonder, how many of these people who are spouting this nonsense have received some kind of an inheritance from lost relatives? How many of them will receive an inheritance after the death of family in the future? Those two combined, I imagine somewhere in the range of about 100%.
Now, how many of them have gone to their loved ones and said, "I know you're planning to put me in your will. But I don't want to be there. I didn't do anything to earn what you want to give me, I didn't do anything to deserve it. No, instead you know who really deserves it? It's not me, nor is it anyone in our family. The only ones who really deserve it are your employers."
Doesn't this sound like an absolutely ridiculous statement? Well, that's what these people expect the Kirbys to act like. And I bet if you asked any of these morons if they've either done this or plan to do this, they'd laugh at you and call you insane.
As a creator, I hope that my creations outlive me. And if that happens, I want my heirs to inherit the rights and to continue to profit from my creations after I die. And if someone should try to stand in the way of that, like Marvel and Disney are currently doing with the Kirby estate, I fully expect my heirs to act in the exact same fashion as Kirby's family and to fight those greedy bastards tooth and nail until they get what they rightfully deserve.
The Kirbys are asking for what Jack was promised -- a percentage of ownership and royalties. That's it. But that's not good enough for Marvel or Disney, they want it all. All those millions of dollars generated by these characters? Marvel and Disney don't want to share a single cent.
More than that, these so-called "fans" and their disrespect for one of the greatest legends in comic book history is nothing short of disgusting. The simple fact is this -- these "fans" are the ones who are really greedy. They are so scared that if the Kirbys get even a shred of what they're owed, that means the comics and the movies will stop. And that's all these people really care about -- how this will affect them. They don't care that this is what Kirby would have wanted, that he spent his later years fighting Marvel to retain what was rightfully his. All they care about is how this will affect them.
So, who's the real greedy party here with delusions of entitlement? I'll give you a hint -- it ain't the Kirbys.
Posted by Percival Constantine at 6:19 AM