January 11, 2010

Kirby, Siegel and Litigation - The Bottom Line

(via Comic Book Resources)

If there's one fundamental truth about comics fans, it's that they not only will complain about a minor thing, but even worse - cynically dismiss things without the facts.

Recently, it was announced that Jack Kirby's family was suing Marvel for rights to Spider-Man and the X-Men. Granted, there may be a slight disconnect (after all, technically Steve Dikto can honestly claim to co-create Spider-Man), but when lawsuits like this are announced, most comics fans will say something that reflects the following sentiment:
"Why those good-for-nothing family members of (artist/writer involved), how dare they sue the company for a dead man's rights? I mean, come on, this means that my favorite character will no longer be published/jump ship/whatever. They're just being greedy and lazy, and gosh darnit, how dare they ruin my funnybooks."
Yes, we are having plenty of that with both Kirby and, believe it or not, Jerry Siegel's heirs and the rights to Superman. So, as a public service, being half attorney on my father's side, I will attempt to clarify some of the issues...or at least, speak out in favor of creator's rights.

For many of these creators, they worked under less enlightened conditions, mostly work-for-hire with little, if any, creative acknowledgment. For Siegel and Shuster, the sad tale can be found in Gerard Jones' Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book. In short, they essentially were bought out, and told that they could continue to do comic work - including Superman - but could never acknowledge that they created him.

(It's true. In fact, there's even a copy of Men of Tomorrow on Google Books. Just click here for some excerpts).

Imagine that - you can work, but never benefit from the fruits of your creation. Any ancillary products - gone. You see nothing, Nada. You even have to resort to working on near porn in order to make a decent living.

That's all that the Siegel family is fighting for - the ability to gain monetarily from Jerry Siegel's work. Kirby...well, I'll grant you, Spider-Man is an exception...but why shouldn't the heirs of creators gain from their work?

For those who suggest that major companies should "buy them off"....that's why there's such a thing as settlements in litigation. It allows for a strong, legal compromise. Quite frankly, to accuse these families of greed seems a little bitter, especially since...well, if you weren't paid for your hard work, wouldn't you complain?

My purpose in writing this is simple - there's a lot of sniping, but little in terms of providing information to make up your own mind. Consider this post the first volley - do some research. Go to your local library (if not for me, then for Dave, Roger, Lefty, and RFG). Search Google.

And make sure the internet is put to good use.

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