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Five famous legal battles over comic book copyrights

Five famous legal battles over comic book copyrights

  1. Siegel and Shuster vs. DC Comics (Superman): Perhaps one of the most infamous copyright disputes in comic book history is the battle between the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and DC Comics. After selling the rights to Superman to DC for just $130 in 1938, the creators later attempted to reclaim the rights to their creation. In a series of lawsuits spanning decades, the courts initially ruled in favor of DC. However, copyright law changes eventually allowed the Siegel family to regain some of the copyright in 2008. The dispute has been further complicated by international copyright law, and is still not fully resolved.

  2. Jack Kirby vs. Marvel Comics: Jack Kirby, co-creator of many of Marvel's most famous characters including The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, and The Avengers, had a long-standing dispute with Marvel over the rights to these characters. Kirby's heirs attempted to reclaim copyrights to his creations in 2009, but the court ruled in favor of Marvel in 2011, stating the characters were created under "work for hire" terms. The case was appealed and eventually settled out of court in 2014, just days before a scheduled Supreme Court conference on the matter.

  3. Neil Gaiman vs. Todd McFarlane (Spawn): Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane, co-creators of the character Angela in the Spawn series, had a legal dispute over the rights to the character. The court ruled in 2002 that Gaiman was co-owner of the character, as well as two other Spawn characters, Medieval Spawn and Cogliostro.

  4. Bill Finger vs. DC Comics (Batman): Bill Finger, co-creator of Batman, was initially given no public credit for his role in the creation of the character. For many years, Batman was solely credited to Bob Kane. Finger's contributions were publicly acknowledged by DC Comics in 2015, more than 40 years after his death. While not a legal dispute, it was a long-running controversy that involved issues of attribution and the recognition of Finger's creative contributions.

  5. Marv Wolfman vs. Marvel Comics (Blade, Nova): In the early 1990s, Marv Wolfman had a legal battle with Marvel Comics over the ownership of characters he created while working for them, including Blade and Nova. Wolfman claimed that he created the characters independently and then brought them to Marvel, while Marvel claimed they were created under a "work-for-hire" agreement. The court ruled in favor of Marvel.

These cases illustrate the ongoing tensions in the comic book industry between creators and the companies that publish their work, particularly around issues of "work for hire" and the rights to characters and stories created under such agreements.

Related: Disney vs the Jack Kirby Estate

Related: The Superman Copyright Legal Case

Related: Copyright Wars of the Superheroes

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Original page June 2023