Marvel Comics Wins Key Work-For-Hire Decision Against Stan Lee’s Heirs

What is this case really about? Judge Colleen McMahon notes in her opinion that “this case is not about whether Jack Kirby or Stan Lee is the real ‘creator’ of Marvel characters, or whether Kirby (and other freelance artists who created culturally iconic comic book characters for Marvel and other publishers) were treated ‘fairly’.” Rather this case is about “whether Kirby’s work qualifies as work-for-hire under the Copyright Act of 1909, as interpreted by the courts.”

On Thursday, Judge McMahon ruled that the heirs of the late Jack Kirby, creator and co-creator of the well-known Marvel Comics superheroes such as Fantastic Four, X-Men, the Hulk and more, have no legal claim to the copyrights of those characters.

Despite press efforts (including two pieces in the New York Times) to characterize the proceeding as “unfair” to the artists and creators upon whose labors companies profited, the decision reflects long-standing law that vests ownership of certain creative works in the company that commissions them as a “work-made-for-hire.”


David M. Adler, Esq. is an attorney, author, educator, entrepreneur and partner at the boutique intellectual property, entertainment & media law firm LEAVENS, STRAND, GLOVER & ADLER, LLC based in Chicago, Illinois. My responsibilities include providing advice to business units and executives on copyright, trademark, ecommerce, software/IT, media & entertainment and issues associated with creating and commercializing innovations and creative content, drafting and negotiating contracts and licenses, advising on securities laws and corporate governance and managing outside counsel. Learn more about me here: and here: Leavens Strand Glover & Adler, LLC

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