First, the heirs of Jerome Seigel, one of the creators of Superman, won a court case winning the rights to the Man of Steel character, making Warner Bros.' ownership of that lucrative franchise complicated. Now, just when Disney has bought Marvel Entertainment, the estate of Jack Kirby, who, along with Stan Lee, pretty much invented most of the famous Marvel superheroes, is pursuing repossession of the copyright to Captain America, Spider-man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, and many others.
The repurcusssions from the Seigel decision are still unfolding and the implications in the Kirby action will play out for the next few years. The situation will be settled eventually. There's too much money at stake and the studios will find a way to make the estates happy while continuing to dish out merchandise, comic books, movies, and other revenue generating stuff.
It will be fascinating and trendsetting to watch where this goes. In my opinion, the descendants of the creators of these characters should have some compensation from the millions (and billions) of dollars in profits that those creations continue to generate.
As an aspiring writer myself, I would want my kids, grandkids, great-grandkids to reap the rewards stemming from the fruit of my labor if the stories I write and the characters I invent achieve global mass-market fame. Seigel and Kirby could not have imagined the tee-shirts, lunchboxes, DVDs, IMAXes, YouTubes, and who-knows-what new media platform yet to come that would be a market for the sketches they drew and the stories they told.
These franchises are now a business, a multi-media industry with thousands upon thousands of people making a living from new variations on those original tales of heroes versus villains. And of course there are millions of fans out there yearning for new stories about these icons that have entertained generations.
So deals will be made, money will be shared, but the characters will live on in some incarnation or another. Hopefully, they will all be in the hands of people who faithfully build upon the legacies from which they originated rather than tarnishing the memories of the artists from whose imaginations all of this was born.