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Marvel argued that since Jack Kirby created the characters while working for Marvel, the characters belong to the company.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Marvel has settled a lawsuit bound for the Supreme Court that pitted the comic-book company against the family of the artist who helped create such iconic superheros as Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk.

Heirs of Jack Kirby, who worked at Marvel alongside Stan Lee in the 1960s and died in 1994, wanted to terminate Marvel's copyrights from 2014 through 2019 to comics published from 1958 to 1963. But Marvel argued that since Kirby created the characters while working for Marvel, the characters belong to the company.

The case went to court, and in 2011 U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon concluded the work was done "for hire," a legal term that rendered the heirs' claims invalid.

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She said the 1909 copyright law that applies to the case presumed that Marvel was considered the author and owner of Kirby's creations because the characters were made at Marvel's expense.

An appeals court agreed, and in August a federal appeals court rejected an ownership claim by the Kirby family. The case had been set to go to the Supreme Court.

"Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes, and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honouring Mr. Kirby's significant role in Marvel's history," Marvel and the Kirby family said in a joint statement. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Comics in the case included The Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor, The X-Men, The Avengers, Ant-Man, Nick Fur and The Rawhide Kid.

Marvel Worldwide Inc. is owned by Walt Disney Co., which has used the company's trove of characters as the basis for high-grossing movies and product lines.

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