Cartoons + Copyright

A friend of mine recently quoted the movie Karate Kid –something about a small grasshopper—I missed the reference, which apparently I should have known. I miss pop culture references all the time—I think growing up in Vermont is like living in a bubble, but I am ok with that.

I was recently impressed that I knew the cartoons “The Incredible Hulk,” “X Men,” and “Spiderman,” authored by Jack Kirby and referenced in the case Marvel Worldwide, Inc v. Kirby 756 F. Supp. 2d 461(2010).  On May 30, 1972, Kirby assigned his copyrights Magazine Management, which was later acquired by Marvel.  Now, Kirby’s children seek to obtain the copyright of their father’s work and to acquire these rights they issued a “termination notice” to Marvel. Marvel claims that since Kirby’s cartoons were created as works-for-hire, the issued termination notice is not valid.

On Friday October 21, from 2:30-3:30 in the Nina Thomas Classroom, Steve Bissette of the Center for Cartoon Studies located in White River Junction, and VLS’ own Oliver Goodenough will discuss the “legal, ethical, and moral issues of the Kirby decision.”

I was intrigued by the topic, so I did a little sleuthing in JULIEN related to the issues which arise from Marvel.

In my search, I discovered the field of “Art Law.” You can find Art Law in a Nutshell on reserve. The book provides background information on the field, as well as cases summaries, legal references, and a table of cases.

The Legal Guide for the Visual Artist is an introduction to the legal issues surrounding art in commerce, and artist’s rights. Copyright is reviewed at length, as are art sales and taxes. The book also includes a chapter on “How to Avoid or Resolve Disputes with Clients” and includes some tips on identifying problematic clients. For the worse case client scenarios, the book offers advice on mediation, arbitration, and small claims courts. The appendix is a directory for artist organizations and associations.

Written by practicing art law attorneys, Ralph Lerner and Judith Bresler, Art Law: The Guide for Collectors, Investors, Dealers, and Artists, is a three-volume set addressing art transactions and art law from multiple perspectives. Perspectives include: the artist/dealer relationship; the commercial aspects of buying and selling artwork; Artists’ rights; the financial aspects of being a collector, dealer or investor; tax and estate planning; and museum law.

My favorite find is The Illustrated Story of Copyright by Edward Samuels because it chronicles copyright with illustrations—perfect! More pictures, less text—it’s like a cartoonists, or-want-to-be cartoonists, dream law book.

Next time I am in the company of my friend, who pointed out my lack of pop-culture knowledge, I am going to drop Marvel Worldwide, Inc v. Kirby . Since he is the one living the law school bubble, he should get the legal reference, right? I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.