"A new challenger has arrived."
Riding high after a $4 billion acquisition of Marvel comics, Disney may soon find itself in the position of having to defend what it perceives as its own property. (Although, if you paid $4 billion for something, you would probably assume it was yours, too.) The children of comic legend, Jack "King" Kirby have issued 45 termination of copyright notices to Marvel/Disney for projects involving characters Kirby helped to create. The ties to those properties also span externally to Sony, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox in regards to Marvel films.
Kirby, (who passed away in 1994) was generally known as the "other guy" in the duo with Stan Lee that helped bring Marvel comics to the forefront in the 60's. He's had a hand in creating virtually ALL of the signature Marvel properties, going back even into comics' Golden Age and the creation of Captain America with Joe Simon (Lee would come on board by the third issue of Captain America in 1941.) To mention everything in which Kirby had a hand for both Marvel and DC comics over his seven decades in the industry would be a huge task, and failing to mention a single one would also not do him justice. The man is a God in comics -- let's leave it at that.
According to a Disney/Marvel spokesperson:
"The notices involved are an attempt to terminate rights seven to 10 years from now and involve claims that were fully considered in the acquisition."
Coincidentally, I was just watching some of the extras on the X-Men Origins: Wolverine Blu-Ray (don't judge me) and it included an interview with Stan Lee on the genesis of Marvel's iconic characters, in which he made clear about Kirby, that he "couldn't have done it without him." While the comment may not be something legally tangible, it does lend somewhat of a moral credence to this emerging issue.
Copyright law states that creators/co-creators can regain copyrights that were assigned to other parties 56 years after the original publication. Some of those copyright portions possibly looking to return to the Kirby estate as soon as 2014. Other properties possibly at stake, are copyrights for the Fantastic Four, which would be eligible in 2017, the Hulk in 2018, and the X-Men in 2019. 39 years after that, they go to public domain in what would surely be the beginning of the biggest copyright battle in history. (And should TheFeed still be around at that time, when the the Earth is ruled by 10-armed cyborg mutants that shoot anthrax out of their eyes, I'm sure we will cover it.)
With THAT in mind, let's put this into perspective: Regardless of the legal details of the termination notices (of which only the lawyers and parties involved are privy,) we are looking at a legal action that could possibly set forth a chain of events climaxing with Sony, Paramount, and Fox being STRIPPED of the current movie rights they possess for key Marvel properties such as Spider-Man (Sony,) Fantastic Four, X-Men (Fox,) Iron Man, and Hulk (Paramount.) Given the monolith that Disney/Marvel has become, these copyright portions might end up being acquired in one lump sum, and in doing so, would consolidate the the Marvel Movie Universe in ways fans have been dreaming about for a long time. Disney has also expressed interest in eventually moving into self-distribution with Marvel film properties. This may end up being the angle they need.
Pure speculation? Perhaps. However, this is one bit of legal drama in which (besides the Kirby estate) the fans may ultimately stand to benefit. (Which would be a nice change.)