The heirs to Jack Kirby, co-creator of a large chunk of Marvel's intellectual property, have filed suit to terminate Marvel's copyrights to Kirby's creations, a move that could cost the publisher millions of dollars... and lead to competing Avengers movies.
The lawsuit follows last September's Notices of Termination for 45 Marvel characters - amongst them Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The X-Men - as well as January's countersuit from Marvel. It rests upon the validity of its claim that Kirby was not engaged in Work for Hire when creating characters for the publisher between 1958 and 1963, as Marvel's countersuit claims, but instead a freelancer co-authoring works that his heirs are now eligible for part-ownership of the rights to. The Hollywood Reporter's THR, Esq. blog puts that last part into some real-world context:
Because Kirby often worked in tandem with others, particularly [Stan] Lee, the complaint is careful about what the estate believes it is entitled to control: "With respect to Co-Owned Kirby Works, as of the respective Termination Dates, Defendants will jointly own the copyrights to such works for their renewal terms: both Plaintiffs and Defendants will have the non-exclusive right to exploit such jointly owned copyrights..."
In other words, even though various studios currently have a license to produce movies such as "Spider-Man" (Sony) and "X-Men" (Fox), the estate's court action could give it the ability to license competing versions. If it wins termination, that is.
The suit also specifically names two projects where it feels Kirby was not given due credit for his work: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Bear in mind, Kirby was not involved in Wolverine's creation, nor of that of most of the main players in this movie. Presumably, it's a reference to the Blob, the cameos of Cyclops and Professor Xavier, and the X-Men concept in general) and The Incredible Hulk. Claiming that Kirby was denied appropriate credit for his creations, the suit seeks "up to three times the damages they sustained and will sustain" as a result, which may end up being very costly to both Marvel and Sony.
Marvel and Disney have not responded to the lawsuit yet.