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Little more than a week after one judge had seemingly ended a decade-old dispute between Stan Lee Media and Stan Lee and Marvel, another court is reviving it.
THR, Esq. reports that U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson is allowing the new board of failed dot-com Stan Lee Media to file a new consolidated complaint against Lee, alleging that he improperly transferred rights to such characters as Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, the Avengers and Thor from SLM to Marvel.
The original $750-million lawsuit — that was about half of the estimated proceeds from Marvel’s movies — was filed against Lee and Marvel in January 2009 by two SLM shareholders who were later determined to lack standing. An appeal was dismissed in December 2010, followed early this month by a ruling that the plaintiffs’ motions were time-barred, as they come a decade after the alleged injury. But now a newly elected board of directors has successfully petitioned Wilson to permit the complaint to move forward, this time only against Lee, QED Productions and POW! Entertainment. Marvel and DC aren’t named in the lawsuit.
As confusing as the case’s journey through the courts has been, it’s nothing when compared to the complicated backstory: In 1998, Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter used bankruptcy procedures to end Marvel’s $1 million-a-year lifetime contract with Lee, negating Lee’s assignment to the company of his rights to his co-creations. It also freed Lee to form Stan Lee Entertainment (which later merged with Stan Lee Media) with now-infamous entrepreneur Peter F. Paul. The company filed for bankruptcy in February 2001, and emerged from protection in November 2006. The lawsuit — and the $5-billion one that came before it, in March 2007 — hinged on a sequence of events that took place between August 1998, when Marvel terminated Lee’s employment, and November 1998, when Lee entered into a new agreement with the company and signed over his likeness, and any claims to characters. Representatives of SLM previously have claimed that on Oct. 15, 1998, Lee transferred to that company rights to his creations and his likeness.
Stan Lee Media is seeking unspecified punitive or exemplary damages, a declaration of the company’s rights and an injunction against further infringement.