In what could be described as a throw down of super-heroic proportions, Stan Lee Media, Inc (SLMI) has filed a suit in a Colorado court claiming that Disney does not own the rights to the Marvel superheroes (such as Thor, Captain America and The Avengers) as they have claimed they do.
To be clear, Stan Lee has nothing to do with SLMI now-a-days. He did form the company in the late 1990’s but, according to the suit, Lee had signed over the rights to the comic book characters that he created or would create to its corporate predecessor in October 1998. In exchange, Lee and the publisher were paid via shares in SLMI. (On a side note, the shares were eventually proven to be worthless when the dot-com stock bubble burst around 1999-2000. SLMI tried to seek bankruptcy protection in 2001 but was unsuccessful).
In the complaint that was recently filed, SLMI stated that in November, 1998, a month after Lee had given the rights to their corporate predecessor, he had signed a written agreement with Marvel Enterprises, Inc which supposedly assigned Marvel the rights to the characters. They claim since Lee no longer owned the rights at that time due to his agreement with them a month before, the “agreement actually assigned nothing.” As continued proof of their claim over the property, SLMI stated that an amended version of that October 1998 agreement was filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission clearly stated their rights in March of 2000.
This isn’t the first time SLMI has been in court over alleged rights to comic characters. Up until early this year, they were in litigation against the producers of the ‘Conan the Barbarian’ reboot regarding the use of Conan and were suing for 100% of the film’s profits and all future rights to the Conan character. (Apparently they filed the suit without having seen the movie.)
They also had a suit against Stan the Man himself regarding his actions with Marvel but the lawsuit was thrown out on August 23, 2012 on the grounds of re judicata, which prevents a litigant from getting another day in court by giving a different reason than what was given in the first lawsuit that has been concluded. According to the judge, this issue was previously addressed in a prior case so he dismissed it. SLMI is appealing the ruling with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.
In the meantime, SLMI is now going after the Mouse House stating that they are entitled to proceed with the “copyright infringement lawsuit against Disney based upon Disney’s independently actionable conduct which occurred after April 2009, regardless of the outcome of SLMI’s appeal…”
Why they waited so long to file after Disney bought Marvel in 2009 is still a lingering question but from the sound of if all, SLMI may face the same verdict as they did with their case against Lee, again on the grounds of res judicata.
It’s now all in a judge’s hands and we’ll keep you updated on the legal aspects of this case as it ensues.