Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Battle brews over Marvel’s copyrights

Marvel, the fabled comic-book publisher that slid into bankruptcy protection in 1996 but has since become a multibillion-dollar action-flick factory, has a string of big-screen punch-ups on the marquee this year, including Thor; Captain America: The First Avenger; and, next summer, a new Spider-Man. With such a rich stable of comic-book heroes to exploit, the $4-billion that The Walt Disney Co. paid for the company in 2009 looks like a bargain.
Except for one problem. Behind the onscreen explosions and feats of strength is a quieter but no-less-fiercely fought legal battle over the copyrights to some of Marvel’s signature characters, including the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers, and even Spider-Man.
It’s a fight that threatens Disney’s profits from Marvel’s movie mayhem, and strikes at the heart of the risk-averse economics of 21st century Hollywood, where studios are increasingly choosing recognizable superheroes or other “branded” characters for big-budget action films, banking on existing fan bases.
The Marvel case began in 2009, when the heirs of comic-book artist Jack Kirby (pictured) – three daughters, Lisa, Barbara and Susan, and son Neal – sent Marvel “termination notices,” seeking to regain the copyrights to characters and stories created or co-created by their father, as well as a percentage of all profits from their use, beginning in 2014.

Click on the title to read the whole story by the Globe's Jeff Gray.

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