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A Supersized Custody Battle Over Marvel Superheroes

Publication Date: 
March 19, 2010
Source: 
The New York Times
Author: 
Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply

Professor Paul Goldstein, an expert on intellectual property law, is quoted this New York Times article on the conflict between intellectual property lawyers and media companies. Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply filed this story:

When the Walt Disney Company agreed in August to pay $4 billion to acquire Marvel Entertainment, the comic book publisher and movie studio, it snared a company with a library that includes some of the world’s best-known superheroes, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four.

The heirs of Jack Kirby, the legendary artist who co-created numerous Marvel mainstays, were also intrigued by the deal. Mr. Kirby’s children had long harbored resentments about Marvel, believing they had been denied a share of the lush profits rolling out of the company’s superheroes franchises.

They spent years preparing for a lawsuit by enlisting a Los Angeles copyright lawyer, Marc Toberoff, to represent them. When the Marvel deal was struck, Mr. Toberoff — who helped win a court ruling last year returning a share of Superman profits to heirs of one of that character’s creators — sprang into action.

Pow! Wham! Another high-profile copyright fight broke out in Hollywood, and this one could be the broadest the industry has yet seen.

...

“Any young lawyer starting out today could turn what he’s doing into a real profit center,” Paul Goldstein, who teaches intellectual-property law at Stanford’s law school, said of Mr. Toberoff’s specialty.

Mr. Goldstein said cases like the one involving Marvel are only the tip of an iceberg. A new wave of copyright termination actions is expected to affect the film, music and book industries as more works reach the 56-year threshold for ending older copyrights, or a shorter period for those created under a law that took effect in 1978.