Disney seeks to end Stan Lee Media’s pursuit of Marvel heroes
After being pursued in court over the past seven years by Stan Lee Media, Marvel and its corporate parent Disney have had enough: On Valentine’s Day, the companies asked a federal judge to put a stop to the failed dot-com’s dogged claims of ownership of Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men and other lucrative characters.
Filed Friday in federal court in Philadelphia, and first reported by Hollywood, Esq., the motion to dismiss comes as part of what began in September as a seemingly straightforward copyright- and trademark-infringement lawsuit involving the use of elements from Spider-Man, Mary Poppins and The Lion King in a musical revue staged by the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based American Music Theatre.
However, as Disney states in its filing, that “simple case” was “transmogrified” with the surprising assertion in November from the theater that it had licensed Spider-Man … from Stan Lee Media, which was named in a third-party counterclaim (it should be noted the license was obtained after Disney filed suit). That conveniently opened the door for the company, which no longer has a connection to its co-founder and namesake, to sue Disney on Feb. 7, seeking a jury trial regarding ownership of Spider-Man, and, presumably, other characters co-created by Stan Lee.
“AMT has conspired with SLMI to relitigate issues utterly irrelevant to this dispute by asserting that it has a license from SLMI to use the Spider-Man character,” Disney charges in its motion. “SLMI is actually a dissolved company whose sole activity appears to be litigating — and repeatedly losing — claims that it owns the copyrights to characters that Marvel has owned and openly exploited for decades, including Spider-Man.”
Indeed, Stan Lee Media has yet to win any of the numerous lawsuits filed since 2006 in an effort to reclaim properties the company claims were improperly lost during its bankruptcy. (Marvel and Disney haven’t been the only targets: An appeals court last year denied SLM’s bid for the rights to the Conan characters, which were purchased in 2000 but then sold two years later, shortly after the company filed for bankruptcy.)
As ROBOT 6 readers know, Stan Lee Media is nothing if not tenacious; it hasn’t been deterred by either repeated losses nor a warning in September from a clearly annoyed federal judge that any attempt to amend its previous lawsuit against Disney would be “futile.” But SLM maintains that none of the earlier rulings has directly addressed its ownership claims, and in the American Music Theatre licensing dispute, the company apparently sees another pathway to reach the outcome it seeks.
And, as Hollywood, Esq., notes, SLM has some deep pockets to draw from — an investment group backed by the $21 billion hedge fund Elliott Management — allowing the company to continue its pursuit of the Marvel characters.
However, in its motion, Disney asserts that not only have four federal courts precluded SLM from relitigating its ownership of the copyrights based on its 1998 agreement with Stan Lee, but that SLM’s claims are barred by a three-year statute of limitations. In short, Disney says, the dot-com had known “since its earliest transactions personally with Stan Lee” that Marvel asserted ownership to Spider-Man and the writer’s other co-creations, and could have raised objections at that time.
What’s more, Disney says, Stan Lee Media is an “administratively dissolved corporation that lacks the capacity to license.”