The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made itself known as one of the most successful franchises when it comes to superhero movie adaptations from the Marvel comics. They are not even considering stopping anytime soon with multiple projects set to be released in the near future. It is also known that they recently acquired the rights to a lot of other characters from a major studio like the 20th Century Fox. And they went through a deal with Sony in order to grab hold of one of its biggest characters aka Spider-Man. MCU is using every possible means to bring all our comic book heroes into live-action adaptations using both movies and tv shows as a vehicle. Disney had a massive hand behind the success of this franchise too as their acquisition of Marvel in 2009 helped in the expansion. Marvel files lawsuits in order to retain character rights to some of the Avengers characters including Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Black Widow. Let’s take a look at what this must mean for the heroes and how it will have an impact on the MCU.
What Does This Mean?
For more than a decade now MCU has been using characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Black Widow for major appearances in their movies. But these characters have been existing in the comic books for a long time before their first appearances. There were massive creators for these characters who once worked for Marvel. What happens in general under a certain circumstance is that the creator gives the company a certain character to publish. This company holds the rights to the usage of this character and this is quite common for them to hold control over the character. But then comes the concept of termination rights. These rights allow the creators a right to renegotiate the rights that the publishing house had over those characters after a certain period of time has passed.
It seems that this is exactly what is happening in the case of characters like Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Doctor Strange. The period for these characters is nearly over. The estate of former Marvel creator Steve Ditko, responsible for some of the major characters like Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, has already filed a notice regarding this termination in August. If this is approved then Marvel and Disney could lose their rights over the character of Spider-Man in less than two years as it would take an effect on July 2023. While this is only for one of the characters and other notices might be filed by artists and creators similarly.
Marvel realized that they have the risk of losing this character and they filed a lawsuit against the estates of creators like Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, etc. The basis for this lawsuit is that these characters were created on work for hire and thus they are ineligible for the termination rights. Most of the creators responsible for the characters created them while these characters were intellectual properties of the publishers. Marvel has claimed that the characters in the lawsuit were created based on the work for hire provisions and thus the rights for these characters cannot be returned to the original creators on the basis of the termination rights.
A similar case was seen before as in 2013 the estate of Jack Kirby, one of the most essential artists and creatives for Marvel put in a similar notice for the characters of Spider-Man, Hulk, and Thor based on the termination rights. The court took into consideration that these characters were created as work for hire and thus Kirby’s estate could not renegotiate based on the termination rights. The case almost headed to the U.S. Supreme Court but a settlement was reached before that.
Now the best outcome would be if Disney wins this. Disney has had previous experiences with these things. The company has had a major impact on copyright laws in the United States as they were responsible for extending the duration of copyrights being extended from 14 years to over 100 years. Mickey Mouse was originally created via Steamboat Willie in 1928 and the copyright to this character was set to expire in 1984 only. Disney lobbied for Congress to radically alter the copyright laws that led to the expiration deadline shifting to 200 and then again 2023. We can definitely thank Disney for this extension on the duration of copyrights to decades.
Another possible scenario could simply be Marvel and Disney losing these lawsuits. That could have major implications considering the characters on the lawsuit have been a massive part of the MCU. Thus these characters might have to end up leaving the franchise. A similar fallout can be faced by Marvel on the basis of bad PR because comic book creators have always had a fight against the major industries based on the inadequate compensation they receive for their characters. These characters don’t get any of the recognition as the characters make massive sums of money and gather a large audience.
The changes, if they do happen, will become apparent around 2023 in the MCU. There’s a chance that Marvel might lose these characters but at the same time, Disney is no ordinary player. Disney is in its top form now and it will try every possible means to keep itself together and maintain the MCU’s success.