We’re reaching a time when more and more iconic films and stories are being impacted by the termination provisions of copyright law. These provisions allow authors or their heirs to reclaim rights to their works after a certain period of time. While this can usually be a smooth process, it often isn’t as is the case with the Friday the 13th franchise. Similar to that situation, certain individuals trying to reclaim Marvel characters are having issues with Marvel and Disney. Specifically, those who create “works made for hire” aren’t supposed to be able to reclaim their works. But because documentation on these projects is rather faulty, it’s hard to decipher which Marvel characters were made for hire and which weren’t. Now with the Supreme Court getting involved, it could spell trouble for Spider-Man and other such Marvel superheroes.
As noted via THR, the board game Game of Life has become part of a lawsuit that’s being reviewed by the Supreme Court. The heirs of Bill Markham, who created the prototype of Game of Life for Milton Bradley (now owned by Hasbro), have been attempting to prove that the game wasn’t made as a work for hire. Obviously this is a similar situation to those involving Marvel characters or the Friday the 13th series, and the Supreme Court’s ruling could change the way these copyright cases are viewed.
As noted in Markham’s petition which aims to define the termination eligibility of commissioned works made before the Copyright Act of 1976:
“Hanging in the balance is the ownership of the copyrights in thousands upon thousands of works authored before the 1976 Act, including numerous paintings, sculptures, movies, plays, and other creative works like the board game here. Given the extraordinary duration of copyrights under the 1909 Act (approaching a century long), those ownership disputes will continue to arise for decades to come, subject to fundamentally conflicting rules unless and until this Court intervenes.”
Many individuals that have been fighting Disney over this matter are naturally supporting this petition. As such, it’ll be really interesting to see what decision the Supreme Court makes and how it will impact these properties such as Spider-Man going forward. Of course, we won’t know how that will go until 2022.
In the meantime, the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Spider-Man: No Way Home is currently playing in theaters.