Marvel filed five lawsuits on Friday in an attempt to prevent the heirs of the comic book creators from claiming copyrights in characters like Spider-Man, Thor, Black Widow and Doctor Strange.
Through VarietyThe move comes after the heirs of five Marvel authors filed dozens of termination notices with the US Copyright Office. If the notices were to be successful, they would not prevent Marvel from using the disputed characters, who were created by several collaborators, but they would require the studio to make payments to the heirs.
The termination notices were filed by Marc Toberoff, a veteran copyright lawyer who fought similar battles on behalf of the heirs of Jack Kirby, co-creator of several Marvel heroes, and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the co-creators of Superman. Toberoff argues that the work of the Marvel writers has led to multi-billion dollar franchises and that their heirs should be allowed to share the wealth.
“It’s the deep, dark secret of the comic book industry, if not now the entire entertainment industry, due to the explosion of these superhero franchises,” Toberoff told Commerce. “It’s about the rights of artists. It is literally injustice.
The lawsuit argues that these characters were created under “work for pay” agreements and that the heirs do not have valid copyright rights.
“Since these were works rented and therefore owned by Marvel, we have filed these lawsuits to confirm that the termination notices are invalid and without legal effect,” attorney Daniel Petrocelli said in a statement.
Toberoff does not believe at all that these comics were made on a “work for pay” basis. He says the authors were freelancers and independent contractors and gave up their copyrighted work in exchange for payment. Can the authors then recover the copyright?
“At the heart of these cases is an anachronistic and much criticized interpretation of ‘work done for hire’ under the copyright law of 1909 that needs to be rectified,” Toberoff said in a statement.