Robot 6

Theater claims it licensed Spider-Man from Stan Lee Media

Disney and MarvelNo matter how hard they try, Disney and Marvel can’t seem to shake the specter of Stan Lee Media: Just two months after a federal judge dismissed a multibillion lawsuit against Disney for ownership of the Marvel characters co-created by Stan Lee, the failed dot-com has emerged in another, seemingly unrelated dispute.

In September, Disney, Marvel and Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. sued Lancaster, Pennsylvania-bases American Music Theatre, saying it violated copyrights and trademarks by using elements of Spider-Man, Mary Poppins and The Lion King in its musical revue Broadway: Now and Forever (Disney and Mackintosh jointly hold the copyright to the Mary Poppins stage production).

On Monday the theater responded with an eye-opening claim of its own: that Disney doesn’t own Spider-Man. Instead, the counterclaim states, the character belongs to Stan Lee Media, which licensed the rights to the American Music Theatre.

Here’s where we take a break for a primer on Stan Lee Media, which, it’s important to note, hasn’t had a  connection to its co-founder and namesake for a long time: In 1998, Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter used the company’s bankruptcy to end the $1 million-a-year lifetime contract with Stan Lee, negating the 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 Chapter 11 in February 2001. Shortly after SLM emerged from federal bankruptcy protection in 2006, its shareholders began a series of lawsuits — against Marvel, Lee, Disney and others — to assert the company’s stake in Lee’s Marvel co-creations (all efforts have been unsuccessful).

All of the lawsuits filed by SLM’s shareholders hinge 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 asserted in a 2012 lawsuit that neither Marvel nor Disney, which bought the comic company in 2009, ever registered Lee’s November 1998 agreement with the U.S. Copyright Office. Therefore, the plaintiffs argued, they actually own the Marvel characters.

Elements of that winding legal history are referenced in American Music Theatre’s response, filed Monday in federal court in Philadelphia. In court papers, the theater states it lacks knowledge of whether the Lion King and Mary Poppins “trademarks, artwork, songs and other properties” belong to Disney, demands proof; a “fair use” claim is thrown in for good measure. However, the defendant points to a licensing agreement with Stan Lee Media as evidence that the Spider-Man rights were never infringed.

American Music Theatre also filed a third-party counterclaim against Stan Lee Media, seeking a declaratory judgment as to ownership of Spider-Man and the “Non Spider-Man Characters.” Those include Iron Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Thor, the Hulk and “most of” the Avengers, which were purportedly part of the “exclusive” licensing agreement for “stage and theatrical productions.”

The Disney parties and the American Music Theatre have requested a jury trial.

(via Law360)

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Comments

16 Comments

Messy, messy, messy . . . copyright law must be a nightmare in this country . . . or anywhere really.

uh oh marvel just got the ammo they need to permanently shut down stan lee media forever.

Please Disney, just put that miserable company out of its misery.

I think that theater needs to find a way to sue stan lee media for conning them.

I kinda suspect that if this theater did in fact “license” Spider-Man from Stan Lee Media, i.e. they signed paperwork and thought they were free and clear, there might be grounds to sue SLM for fraud, and then we might finally hear the end of this crap.

How in the hell has SLM not filed for bankruptcy? Do they even have any income to offset the massive legal fees they’re putting on themselves? Are they selling meth out the back of a Los Angeles Italian restaurant? Do they have blackmail material against their legal team? What’s going on?

I’m pretty sure selling the rights to something that the courts have repeatedly told you isn’t yours would be fraud. It will be interesting to see the details of how much money they swindled out of AMT and anyone else they may have sold these licences to.

@Zomburai! Good question! Where the heck do these guys get their money?

Your wrong Davey. This case helps SLM. More will come out soon!

moral of the story: people are really dumb

SLM is probably hoping Disney/Marvel wants to settle out of court just one time to make them “go away” that’s probably why they keep insisting on these ridiculous claims, except now I hope they don’t give in and to quote Tony Montana “bury those cockroaches” once and for all.

Dear god, let this end.

What a klusterfuk

how many more times does a court have to tell stan lee media they don’t actully own the rights to the marvel characters for stan lee never owned the rights to begin with the characters in marvels eyes are work for hire.

Brian from Canada

November 6, 2013 at 4:08 pm

SLM can have all the arguments they want: Disney owns the US Congress and can out buy any court to get what they want.

And so long as Disney controls such a portion of the media, their strong-arming won’t get noticed, berated or boycotted. This is a tribute to Broadway, which means it is using Broadway shows past and present. Either the show is awful and ruins the reputation of the original shows (in which case it should end) or it’s a good promotion that just needs to pay a suitable licensing fee.

But Disney doesn’t do licensing unless it’s what they want. They don’t allow anyone to use their characters.

If this case succeeds, there should be a reaction by the rest of the world. What that is, I can’t tell you, since Disney has taken over so much of the market that you can’t escape them, but enough.

I have read the papers filed by The American Music Theatre. Those papers say that no court has ever decided who is the owner of the copyrights for the characters. Those papers say that none of the other cases involving SLMI has ever denied SLMI’s ownership position – - which is that SLMI has a recorded, first-in-time, copyright assignment but Disney has an unrecorded, second-in-time, copyright assignment. Those papers say Stan Lee sold the Brooklyn Bridge twice, first to SLMI and its shareholders and later to Disney. Those papers say that Stan Lee and his allies at Marvel and Disney were thrown out of control of SLMI in late 2010 by the appellate courts and that is why the ownership rights litigation is now happening. Respectfully, I believe people should actually read the papers that were filed by The American Music Theatre ( Case No: 5:13-cv-05570 (JSL) , and check the actual facts, before rushing to a conclusion.

^^ Do you work for SLM or something?

@ Becky: do you really think the ignorant readers and people giving their uninformed comments would ever read the history or try to understand the courts’ rulings? You do have it correct and on point; the courts have never resolved any prior litigation by SLMI on the merits. They have simply done what courts do, disopose of a case as quickly as possible with as little work as they have to expend. Each dismissal was based on procedural grounds, NOT who rightfully owns the copyrights.

SLMI owns the rights to the enumerated characters, which Beckys states simply “…SLMI has a recorded, first-in-time, copyright assignment but Disney has an unrecorded, second-in-time, copyright assignment.” It is Stan Lee, Marvel and now Disney who do not want ownership rights to be adjudicated on the merits.

@ BULL, do you work for Disney or that just where your mind lives???

Nuf said…

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