With some of their cherished Avengers characters, Marvel and Disney have stumbled into an unforeseen dilemma. The heirs of several of the comic book creators who created many popular Marvel characters have filed a lawsuit. It is to gain control of the characters’ copyrights. Marvel has already filed its lawsuits in response to the allegations and is preparing to defend itself. So, will Marvel lose the rights to its most famous Avengers?
However, there’s no need to be concerned about the destiny of the Avengers and Spider-Man films at this moment. More Marvel Cinematic Universe stories will be out in the future. It makes no difference whether the heirs reclaim power or Disney can stop them in court. So don’t be alarmed if you see hashtags requesting your assistance in saving Spider-Man.
Copyright Revision Act of 1976
Due to the expiration of copyrights on prominent characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Black Widow, and others, Marvel may lose the rights to those characters in a few years. The MCU launched Iron Man in 2008. It has dominated the global box office. Yet each MCU film is an extension of a character first conceived by Marvel Comics’ writers, editors, and illustrators. And therein lies a conundrum for Disney.
Copyright ownership should be transferred to the original creators 60 years after a character or tale is created, according to the Copyright Revision Act of 1976. That deadline is swiftly approaching for many Marvel characters. Larry Lieber, a writer, and illustrator who is also Stan Lee’s brother has filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company to reclaim rights to Iron Man, Thor, and Ant-Man, which he co-created. Several other creators quickly joined him, including the estates of Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange; Don Heck, co-creator of Black Widow and Hawkeye; Don Rico’s heirs, co-creator of Black Widow; and Gene Colan’s heirs, co-creator of Blade, Falcon, and Carol Danvers.
Disney: Marvel is the rightful owner of these characters
Disney is battling to keep copyright ownership of these characters. It has responded by filing countersuits, alleging that the 1976 statute does not apply in certain circumstances. Instead, they claim that this work was done under work-for-hire agreements. Thereby, implying that Marvel is the rightful owner of these characters. In the most recent case of this type, in which Jack Kirby’s estate sued Disney for the copyrights to X-Men, Spider-Man, and other characters, a federal court determined that Kirby’s work was work-for-hire. But the issue proceeded to the Supreme Court in 2014, and Disney immediately settled out of court. While there is precedent for this type of activity being classified as work-for-hire, there is still a gray area. Disney may lose if a new court does not follow the Kirby decision. In that event, Disney’s copyright ownership of some characters might be lost by 2023 – or sooner.
In the current litigation, attorney Marc Toberoff is representing all of the creators and their estates. He has previously handled similar cases. During the prior dispute, he represented Jack Kirby’s estate. Also, the estates of Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, against Warner Bros. In every case, the court ruled in favor of the big companies, such as Disney and Warner Bros. This establishes a precedent for Disney’s success in the future. But it does not guarantee that they will win this time.
What happens next? Marvel lose rights or not?
Regardless, Disney’s loss of these characters’ rights does not rule out the possibility of them appearing in future ventures. Even if they were to successfully bargain with the new owners, they would still be able to make Spider-Man and Doctor Strange movies as long as the new owners received a portion of the earnings (via licensing agreements). Also, because this solely applies to copyright laws in the United States, Marvel may be able to maintain control over overseas distribution.
If Disney loses their countersuit, Marvel will lose copyright ownership of some of the MCU’s most well-known characters (or in the comics). In the past, similar cases had ended in their favor, but only time will tell how this one ends. Whatever happens, spectators will almost certainly be able to see their favorite superheroes fight on the big screen together.
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