The Terminator (of Transfers)

Jack Kirby’s heirs are trying to reclaim his superhero copyrights from Marvel. Do we need any more confirmation of what a nightmare termination rights are? The concept is coherent (if economically and morally indefensible) when it comes to discrete works like books, But for comic series, which are continually produced by changing casts of creators, licensed into an astonishing array of derivative works, and subject to a mind-boggling degree of cross-pollination with other creative works, it’s both destructive and intellectually unworkable. Kicking a key piece of the copyright foundation out from under these vast creative enterprises does nothing for society except provide employment for copyright lawyers.

My sympathies ordinarily lie with authors over publishers, with creators over distributors. Many times, the relationship is deeply unfair or openly exploitative. But termination of transfers is a terrible solution to the problem. It’s one of the few parts of the Copyright Act that can get me to the point where the veins in my face are bulging ominously. (Usually, my attitude is more one of resigned sadness intercut with wry amusement.) That it’s also politically untouchable just adds to the pain.