Robot 6

Stan Lee Media sues Disney for billions over Marvel characters

Undeterred by numerous legal setbacks, failed dot-com Stan Lee Media on Tuesday filed a $5.5 billion copyright-infringement lawsuit against Disney, claiming the entertainment giant doesn’t actually own the Marvel characters featured in such blockbuster films as The Avengers, X-Men: First Class and Thor, and the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.  The dollar amount reflects the estimated revenue from box-office receipts, licensing and merchandising dating back three years, the statute of limitations for copyright infringement.

The complaint, filed in federal court in Colorado and first reported by Deadline, has its roots in Marvel’s 1998 bankruptcy, when CEO Isaac Perlmutter ended the $1 million-a-year lifetime contract with Stan Lee, negating the legendary writer’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 infamous entrepreneur Peter F. Paul. That company in turned filed for bankruptcy in February 2001; just four months after SLM emerged from protection in November 2006, shareholders filed a $5 billion lawsuit against Marvel. Stan Lee Media has had no connection to its co-founder and namesake in more than a decade; in fact, the two have sued each other on a few occasions.

That 2007 action, and virtually every one since then, hinges 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 House of Ideas and signed over his likeness, and any claims to the characters. Stan Lee Media has long claimed that on Oct. 15, 1998, Lee transferred to that company the rights to his creations and his likeness. SLM asserts in the latest lawsuit that neither Marvel nor Disney, which bought the comic company in 2009, has ever registered Lee’s November 1998 agreement with the U.S. Copyright Office.

In what makes for entertaining reading, SLM retraces the tangled web of lawsuits — the company characterizes it as a “somewhat tortured history” –which zigzags through at least three jurisdictions and spans more than five years, right up to Aug. 23, 2012. It’s that last date The Hollywood Reporter contends could signal doom for the company’s current action. In the August decision, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson dismissed a 2007 SLM claim against Lee and his POW! Entertainment, citing res judicata, which the judge said barred any lawsuits based on “any claims that were raised or could have been raised in a prior action.”

Stan Lee Media has appealed Wilson’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit, but considering the company’s “somewhat tortured history” of courtroom defeats, that avenue doesn’t look promising. However, the plaintiff seems to be pinning its hopes on the argument that, because Disney didn’t enter the picture until 2009, the court will view its conduct as separate from the 2007 lawsuit.

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Comments

43 Comments

Waiting for the first comment to defame Stan Lee…

Good thing he has that new pace maker. Otherwise the actions of Stan Lee Media and Peter F. Paul might cause even more distress.

Is USA the only country with these type of “law issues” regarding copyrights? Because I dont really remember reading about similar cases elsewhere.. or are the lawyers in USA just slightly less honest? :P

Doesn’t Fox “own” X-Men: First Class?

The actions of one set of lawyers in one marginal and otherwise forgotten company do not reflect on the USA as a whole, or all of the lawyers in the USA, either.

Darth Commenter

October 10, 2012 at 7:17 am

Teppo – The US just makes the majority of copyrighted material that makes a ton of money. Money attracts the lawsuits. That’s why it seems like there are many cases here. Harry Potter in the UK has gone through many copyright battles.
JB – You are right, but I think Marvel receives a share of the revenue as part of the contract.

Sounds like this lawsuit is a hail Mary play. Even if there is a new defendant, the judge can still throw out the case under issue preclusion. This seems like a prime example, but I don’t know all the facts.

Wow Stan, must suck to have your “work” stolen from you eh? to have others making money off your back?

Jack Kirby Much? (all puns intended)

this latest action proves that stan lee media is an evil phoenix just when it looked finaly gone and done with its losing battles in court it comes back with this latest attempt only to fail since stan lee never owned the rights to any of the marvel characters they were considered work for hire from the start

Brian from Canada

October 10, 2012 at 7:24 am

Teppo:

This is US only, because only the US put a clause in that reverts copyright back at the time of renewal. Thus, Stan Lee can effectively take back his copyrights in the next few years if he chooses to, just as Joe Simon, Jack Kirby’s heirs, Siegel & Shuster’s heirs, etc. have done.

@Teppo

Only took thirty minutes.

New lawsuit same result. When are people going to learn you can’t beat the mouse in court? Even Apple is afraid of Disney’s lawyers.

@Brian

This suit actually has nothing to do with Stan Lee though, other than a company that uses his name for publicity.

IIRC, this same company actually sued the man himself a few years back.

lando, you did catch the part where Stan Lee isn’t the one suing Marvel, yeah? That he and SLM have had suits against each other in the past right?

I do agree that Kirby got robbed though. Let’s not forget though, this isn’t Stan Lee suing Marvel Comics.

Brian from Canada

October 10, 2012 at 7:31 am

lando:

Stan Lee’s million dollar deal with Marvel identifies Lee as the creator of the Marvel Universe through the claim “Stan Lee presents….” It was a great deal for both sides; Lee got to provide for his heirs now as opposed to letting royalties do it after he died, and Marvel got the security of knowing they wouldn’t have the characters taken away from them as was considered possible.

That Marvel ended the relationship and later denied Stan his due royalties from Spider-Man was just the first example of the type of “screw you” management the publisher had under Arad after the reorganization.

As for Kirby, Kirby signed away his rights in the seventies for a higher royalty, and never pushed for the recognition as creator the way Stan did. More to the point, Kirby didn’t have the same relationship with Marvel throughout the years that Lee did, and is not inextricably linked to the company. Kirby had as much of an impact as DC as he did at Marvel; Lee is Marvel all the way, and has a good chunk of shares IIRC.

More to the point, though, the Kirby family lawsuit assumes that Kirby wasn’t assigned the tasks of story creation by Lee as editor — as in “We need a new Fantastic Four issue, so here’s the idea….” It assumes Kirby created the finished issue and then brought it in, which isn’t how either of them defined the Marvel way of story writing. The Marvel way was work for hire.

Brian from Canada

October 10, 2012 at 7:35 am

C Biro:

Yes, I got that it wasn’t Stan himself. But the principle is the same: copyright ownership lawsuits have exploded in the comic industry because of the law, and Disney’s claim of ownership of the copyright actually extends the Marvel control of the characters quite a lot — it’s 70 years after death for the creator in the US, IIRC, but 120 years after filing for the company (and Disney WAS the prime reason we have the law in the US as we have now).

Lando obviously has a reading disability. Stan Lee has nothing to do with SLM and their lawsuit.

The legal system in the US (and likely across the world too) is beyond corrupt thanks to crooked lawyers being allowed to get away with interpreting very clearly written laws as up is down and black is white. It’s why every law and contract today has to be hundreds of pages long as the lawyers writing them try to out think their con man peers.

Brian: The Stan Lee Media dispute over the 1998 chain of events aside, Stan Lee has time and again relinquished any claims of ownership to the characters in exchange for financial compensation, making any effort to terminate transfer of copyrights improbable. In addition, unlike the other writers and artists (and their heirs and estates), Lee was actually an employee of Marvel at the time the characters were created.

@Brian I don’t like the Kirby families chances at all. Disney has probably the toughest and most aggressive corporate legal team there is, and I don’t think anyone has a chance of beating them. They’re too good at what they do and too well connected. I think Jack Kirby deserved better treatment, but his heirs didn’t create the characters and probably lost any chance of winning the rights or securing a settlement the moment Marvel was sold to the Mouse. Disney wins there and certainly beats SLM as well.

Brian from Canada

October 10, 2012 at 8:04 am

Kevin: while I recognize the improbability of Lee taking them back after being compensated so, that’s not to say it’s impossible — prior to the lawsuit over Spider-Man, nobody thought Lee would sue Marvel for royalties owed.

As for him being an employee unlike others, that’s not much of a distinction when it was rare for employees to be working for multiple publishers at a time. The idea of freelancing, or working for the competition at the same time, wouldn’t come quite common until more definitive contracts, meaning there’s a high probability of getting the situation interpreted as a piece-work commission employee rather than a standard salaries employee.

But Kirby WAS a Marvel employee — he basically says as much in describing the work system and its conditions.

Seriously, Stan Lee sucks for doing this. Marvel has included him in so much, including all of the movies. People in general know him better now than ever because of what they’ve done to include him. Seriously, how ungrateful can you be.

And this clearly has no merit. Sounds like somebody needs to read the US copyright laws again. Here that Stan? READING COMPREHESION, LOOK INTO IT!

; )

@ DARTH TIGRIS

READING COMPREHENSION means actually reading the article you’re commenting on. This is not STAN LEE, you illiterate $!U#.

“READING COMPREHESION, LOOK INTO IT!”

Heh. As the article notes, Stan Lee has nothing to do with Stan Lee Media (outside of the occasional courtroom confrontation).

^HELLA funny coming from someone who didn’t read the article closely enough to see that it’s not actually Stan Lee who’s suing Marvel.

“As for him being an employee unlike others, that’s not much of a distinction when it was rare for employees to be working for multiple publishers at a time. The idea of freelancing, or working for the competition at the same time, wouldn’t come quite common until more definitive contracts, meaning there’s a high probability of getting the situation interpreted as a piece-work commission employee rather than a standard salaries employee.”

Brian, it’s a key distinction, as Lee was the editor — an actual employee — rather than an independent contractor/freelancer.

Damn, well, everyone beat me to the chiding, so I guess I’ll just say that this whole thing seems like a boondoggle and that Stan Lee Media strikes me as a perpetual highway crash of a business.

I feel like I read about a new lawsuit on CBR every other day.

Everybody responding to Darth Tigris just got trolled. :p

Anyone actually remember the dross SLM put out? It was like watching a seal trying on a pair of shoes.

This is a joke.

I love people that read a headline, draw conclusions, and then make ill-informed comments.

READ THE ARTICLE! “Stan Lee Media has had no connection to its co-founder and namesake in more than a decade; in fact, the two have sued each other on a few occasions.” This lawsuit is a bunch of people in a board room grasping at straws.

Just curious, what does Stan Lee Media do for a living?

ARGH, really? AGAIN???

I would’ve ended this legal scuffle faster than you could say “Watta revoltin’ development”.

I guess Stan didn’t like AvX either.

*RIF was a big initiative when I was a kid. They need to bring that back. *Reading is Fundamental. It didn’t take long at all for some to prove that Teppo was right in assuming that not everyone could grasp basic reading comprehension and throw a shot at Stan Lee himself.

@bunnymug- They sue for rights to things they have no legitimate claim to. Bad form!

Here’s hoping this doesn’t hurt the good name of Stan “The Man” Lee who, (yes, @lando, reading is an important skill) has no ties to this company that still bears his name.

Isn’t there something Stan can do to make “Stan Lee Media” change it’s name to like “SL Media”
or “SLM”? Couldn’t it be construed as defamation of character to continue using someone’s name who has no ties to your company any longer? Sorry I don’t know if that’s the correct legal term for what their doing, but it has to stop!

stan lee lied about his supposed creations whether he has anything to do with stan lee media right now, this lawsuit, or not.
the only three things he can actually claim are the hulk, which was actually based off of dr. Jeckel and mr. hyde, the x-men, his version of the Holocaust, & spider-man, his tweaked version of “the spider” a public-domain pulp hero dynamite entertainment is using.

—stan lee did NOT create daredevil. Liv Gleason, Jack Binder and Jack Cole created him. –stan lee did NOT create, nor did anyone else at marvel create: ghost rider, dr. doom, wonder-man, yellow jacket, black cat, doc strange, or the black panther. –all of which are now public-domain, and all of which were created & published by other companies in the 1940′s. the law states that it causes undue confusion in the marketplace to have two different copyrights/ heroes named the same name. the reason why one can not name their bat-like character :batman.– (this does not apply to legacy heroes like robin, as long as you are the original company that created them, or had them as a work for hire.)

marvel was NOT the original company to publish the above list of characters. neither was timely comics.- they outright ripped them off, and kicked a bunch of deceased creators in their graves. they did not purchase these characters either. marvel deserves to be sued, as does disney for buying a company knowingly, that repeatedly abused MULTIPLE copyright laws. -trademark is a separate issue, and all the trademarks were still owned by other companies when marvel infringed on them.

Dumbest lawsuit ever. They do own the characters. Stan Lee Media now has nothing to do with Stan Lee, himself.

Again, folks, Stan Lee Media ONLY HAS STAN LEE IN NAME. STAN LEE ISN’T INVOLVED!

Some of us here just want to make sure everyone knows that.

“Stan Lee Media” created very little of note when Stan was there, absolutely squat since he left and has done nothing but file lawsuits since 2007 to try and get a piece of Marvel’s box office success. I’m not even sure how they survived the dot-com meltdown as an intact entity. They are a group of leeches with no purpose other than to sue people, and they need to go away.

Confusing Stan Lee Media vs. Stan Lee is actually quite easy if you’re not familiar with the history of their relationship. It seems like the majority of people wouldn’t readily have a handle on why “Stan Lee” is suing (but not really). Yes, the article makes the disctinction, but in the era of interwebs news headlines, most people will just notice the person, not the actualy company name.

abandoned trademarks are not protected by law – which is why Marvel rushed to have a Captain Marvel to keep anyone else from reviving the original. The Marvel Captain Marvel debuted in 1967 – not coincidentally, C.C. Beck, the creator of the Big Red Cheese, began working on Fatman the Human Flying Saucer and Tod Holton, Super Green Beret in 1967 – the publisher even published an ad for the soon to be published “Captain Shazam” IIRC.

Marvel may have used names that had been used before, but they did NOT publish those new characters with old names anywhere near when the previous characters had been published. Ghost Rider is the one sort-of exception, as they published the western Ghost Rider first, before then using the name for their new supernatural character and changing the name of the western character. But it had been well over a decade since anyone else had published the western Ghost Rider when Marvel began publishing new stories of the character – and the original publisher was well out of business, so it was pretty clearly an abandoned trademark. interestingly enough, Ghost Rider was also published in 1967, as Marvel’s restrictive distribution agreement with Independent News began to come to a close.

Marvel would only have violated the copyrights of the original publishers if they reprinted the original stories without acknowledgement or payment.

I forgot to mention that the original Ghost Rider was co-created by Dick Ayers, who was also the artist on the Marvel version – so the implication there would definitely be that Ayers is doing the character as work for hire for Marvel at that point. We can argue about the ethics and such of work for hire in 1967, but Marvel had every reason to assume in 1967 that once Ayers agreed to create new stories with the character, that they now had a claim on said character (and his name).

Whats with all of the reading comprehension/reading disability vitriol? What did dyslexia ever do to you?

“Whats with all of the reading comprehension/reading disability vitriol? What did dyslexia ever do to you?”

It ran over my God!

@Teek

The only one that got it.

Someone explain this to me – Stan Lee Media seems to have a right to the characters because Stan Lee signed the rights away, and then made the deal with Marvel/Disney but that actually doesn’t count as he now didn’t own the rights to them? (I read the court appeal) So how have SLM not won this? Not that I’m on their side I just don’t understand the details.

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