Just under three months ago, Marvel Studios filed a number of lawsuits seeking to retain full ownership of the rights to characters such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and the Mighty Thor. This case could of course drag on for years, but all of a sudden there are developments.
Last weekend wasn’t just the brilliant box office debut of Spider-Man: No Way Home. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has also seen massive behind-the-scenes action in the United States Supreme Court, which could potentially be a game-changer for Hollywood and change the plans of the Spider-man franchise forever.
Important copyright issue
Copyright law in the United States allows authors and their heirs to claim rights once granted to publishers and studios, as long as they wait a certain period of time. Disney is therefore seeing breaches of contracts for famous superheroes.
But the regulations do not apply to all works. If a work is commissioned by an employer, the employee cannot claim the rights. It gets more complex when it comes to situations where there is a freelance writer. Before, it was like that, which complicates everything. How do you rank the Marvel works of the 1960s?
It’s true according to The Hollywood Reporter the game The game of life assumes an important role. It was first sold in 1960 and manufactured by Reuben Klamer in collaboration with Bill Markham. Markham was a game designer who introduced concepts and developed the prototype.
Decades later, the Markham heirs decided to claim copyright. However, the judge ruled that the work was made under contract, so the rights would belong to publisher Milton Bradley (who was later acquired by Hasbro). In short: the heirs could not claim the copyright.
The United States Supreme Court must now consider the matter. This is because the lower court relied on a decision for the work under the Copyright Act 1976. But the game was designed under the copyright law of 1909. And so the heirs want this to go to court. If the case were to go through, it could have major consequences for Marvel Studios.
Marvel Heroes Rights
Disney’s main argument is that freelance contributions to Marvel Comics (like those around Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and other heroes) were made under the control of the publisher. It doesn’t matter at the studio that people like Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, Don Heck and others made creative choices and often did so at great financial risk. This while they were only paid when Marvel Comics wanted to publish the works.
Disney assumes that the success of a decade ago was achieved around a case of Jack Kirby. But the new case around The game of life makes things more complicated. About ten years ago, Disney agreed to settle tens of millions of dollars with Kirby’s heirs to avoid the risk of losing the rights.
When the case is over The game of life is over, it can have major consequences if the decision rests with the heirs. The question in the coming months is therefore to know in which direction this will go, and what will be the consequences for the film studio. It could end badly.
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