The heirs of the late comic book artist Jack Kirby reportedly lost an appeal of a case involving a dispute with Marvel Entertainment over the rights to certain famous comic book heroes. Kirby has been gone for some time, having died back in 1994, leaving a legacy of numerous comic book heroes with Marvel Comics. In 2009, Walt Disney Co. purchased Marvel for $4 billion, and has made a good deal of money from that purchase.
The dispute in this case was over the heirs’ claim that they owned the rights to works he created between 1958 and 1963. During that time, when he was a freelance artist, he came up with many of the ideas that later made Marvel famous. Marvel later sued Kirby’s heirs and asked a court to step in and declare that the heirs had no right to terminate the company’s rights to those works.
Marvel won out in 2011 when a federal judge found the works in question fell under an exception to copyright law that gave them the right to continue using them. That decision was recently upheld on appeal, effectively putting an end to the dispute.
When it comes to the world of estate planning and probate, disputes like this are not uncommon. The more money and property involved in an estate, the more likely it is that family will find something to get upset and sue about. Some of this is difficult to avoid, but it is certainly possible to tie up an estate enough that the possibility of legal disputes is greatly reduced. To get there, one needs to engage in effective estate planning with an experienced attorney.
Source: Reuters, “Marvel artist Kirby’s heirs lose appeal over copyrights,” Nate Raymond, August 8, 2013.