Deadline reports that Marvel settled with the heirs of famed comic book artist Jack Kirby last Friday, precluding the Supreme Court from taking the case and examining the issue of works made for hire. Kirby is the creator of many of the original Marvel Comics including Spider-Man, Captain America, and Iron Man. In 2009, his descendants issued termination notices—for the copyrights to these characters and others—to Marvel and its licensees, claiming both that Kirby had valid copyrights in these characters as a freelance artist and that, as his heirs, they had inherited his termination rights. Marvel responded that because Kirby’s creations had been produced as works made for hire, Marvel retained the copyrights to the characters.
Earlier in the summer, Marvel received the Supreme Court’s request for a response to a petition for cert submitted on behalf of Kirby’s heirs. The Court was set to take the case into conference on Sept. 29 to decide whether to hear the case. The settlement is not surprising given the catastrophic consequences that could result from the Court’s upholding these notices—which could effectively destroying the Marvel brand. The decision would have had far reaching consequences for film studios and other creative industries, and there was much anticipation building for the Court to rule on the issue. As a result of the settlement, any further explication of the line between freelance and work made for hire will have wait for a future date.