‘Marvel’ and the Importance of Careful Drafting in Transferring IP Rights

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Originally published in September 12, 2011 edition of the NEW YORK LAW JOURNAL © 2011 ALM Media Properties, LLC.

As part of day-to-day operations, companies regularly enter into intellectual property assignment or “work for hire” arrangements with employees and contractors, often pursuant to form agreements that are not tailored to the particular engagement. However, decisions such as the Southern District of New York’s recent opinion in Marvel Worldwide Inc. v. Kirby highlight the importance of carefully drafting provisions governing the transfer of rights in new works of authorship.

The Marvel dispute began in September 2009, when the heirs of comic book artist Jack Kirby served Marvel with notices purporting to terminate Kirby’s prior assignment of his copyrights in 45 comics Marvel published between 1958 and 1963. The timing of these notices ensured they would receive Marvel’s attention. Disney had recently announced its agreement to acquire Marvel for approximately $4 billion, and the works covered by the termination notices included popular and valuable franchises such as The Amazing Spider-Man, The X-Men, and The Incredible Hulk....

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