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Marvel wins case over comic figures

A cartoonist’s heirs lost their claim to the Incredible Hulk. A cartoonist’s heirs lost their claim to the Incredible Hulk. (Getty Images/File 2009)
By Bloomberg News
July 29, 2011

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NEW YORK - Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Entertainment owns the rights to the Incredible Hulk and X-Men comic book characters, a federal judge said, ruling against the heirs of Jack Kirby, one of the superheroes’ cocreators.

The children of the late cartoonist do not have the right to terminate the publisher’s copyrights, US District Judge Colleen McMahon ruled yesterday. Marvel said it owned the rights because it employed Kirby.

“This case is not about whether Jack Kirby or Stan Lee is the real ‘creator’ of Marvel characters,’’ McMahon said. “It is about whether Kirby’s work qualifies as work-for-hire under the Copyright Act of 1909.’’

The 2008 Marvel-produced film “The Incredible Hulk’’ grossed $263.4 million, according to boxofficemojo.com. Disney bought Marvel last year for $4.2 billion.

In 2009, Kirby’s adult children sent 45 notices to Marvel to terminate license renewals for the characters in comics published from 1958 to 1963. Marvel sued in January 2010.

A lawyer for the Kirbys did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Kirby, who died in 1994, also created or cocreated the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. His heirs said their father was a freelance artist paid by the page who received no benefits from Marvel. Stan Lee, who worked for Marvel as an editor, is credited as coauthor of the Hulk.

Marvel said Kirby granted it rights to the characters in 1972.