Disney Owns the Rights to Marvel Heroes…Don’t They?

     October 9, 2012

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Disney/Marvel’s The Avengers recently passed the $1.5 billion mark in worldwide sales…but what if the superheroic characters never belonged to the joint studio in the first place?  That’s what Stan Lee’s former company, Stan Lee Media, Inc., is hoping to prove in their latest lawsuit.  Citing a whole lot of legal mumbo jumbo that I don’t understand, SLMI is basically saying that Lee signed away rights to his creations that he had no right to do, as they already belonged to SLMI.  These rights include the characters of Spider-Man, Iron Man, most of The Avengers, X-Men and more.  And SLMI isn’t looking for much…just the maximum statutory damages allowable and full control over the characters.  Hit the jump for more.

jennifer-walters-she-hulkDeadline reports that SLMI has filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company for their share of the $5.5 billion in profits that the Mouse House has earned with the related Marvel properties.  Having had limited success in litigious dealings against Lee himself and Marvel in the past, SLMI is now requesting a trial by jury.  Their position states that Lee signed over rights to his comic book creations (past, present and future) to the predecessor of SLMI in October of 1998.  Lee was given shares in the corporation as payment, which proved to be worthless after the Dot-Com Crash of the late 90s.  (SLMI unsuccessfully sought bankruptcy protection in 2001.) The complaint goes on to say that an amended version of that agreement was filed in March of 2000 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Here’s the sticking point.  Lee reportedly signed over those same rights to his characters to Marvel in November of 2008, which, as SLMI points out, should have amounted to nothing as the character rights were already property of SLMI as of the October 1998 document signing.  Therefore, when Disney acquired Marvel in August of 2009, the character rights should still have resided with SLMI.  Furthermore, they state that “Neither Marvel, nor Disney as Marvel’s successor-in-interest as of December 31, 2009, has ever publicly recorded the Marvel Agreement with the United States Copyright Office.”

John McDermott of Denver’s Brownstein Hyatt Faber Schreck and Robert Chapan and Jon-Jamison Hill of Beverly Hills’ Eisner, Kahan & Gorry will argue for SLMI.  Still, I think Disney/Marvel’s got the upper hand on this one.  Arguing for their side will be Jennifer Walters and Matt Murdock.

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