The estate of legendary comic artist Jack Kirby has entered a legal battle with Marvel Comics over the rights to several big-name heroes.
Jacob Kurtzberg, known more commonly by his pen-name, Jack Kirby, helped create some of Marvel's most well known heroes such as Iron Man, Spider-Man, the X-men, and the Hulk. He died in 1994, but his children have decided that the time has come for them to receive a bigger piece of the Marvel pie.
Back in 2009, they issued several notices of copyright termination to Marvel. This means, essentially, that they are demanding back rights to heroes that the author of the works (Kirby) originally sold to Marvel. This is possible because of a weird loophole in copyright law, which was created so that an author or artist's family can profit from a work that was originally sold for very little, but became very profitable. The billions these heroes are potentially worth probably counts as "very profitable."
The only way for a publisher (in this case, Marvel) to get around this is if the work in question is deemed a "work-for-hire." This, of course, is what Marvel is claiming Kirby's work for them was.
Amid countless lawsuits and counter-suits, Judge Colleen McMahon has simplified the whole ordeal to that basic idea: If Kirby's works were work-for-hire, the heroes belong to Marvel. If not, they belong to Kirby's estate. And yes, even though Kirby was only a co-creator, his estate can claim full rights over the intellectual property. Welcome to Copyright Law.
The estate is being represented by Marc Toberoff, the attorney who is also representing Superman's creators' estates in an attempt to use the same process to take back the rights to Superman.
Whether or not Kirby's estate wins, the copyright termination would not occur until 2014 at the earliest.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter