It may seem odd due to the name association between Marvel and Stan Lee along with the names of other comic book writers, but The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that the comic book icon’s family is being sued by Disney to keep control over some of its flagship characters like Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Widow, Ant-Man, Thor, Falcon, and more.
Based on documents obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, the complaint targets the heirs of Marvel masterminds Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Gene Colan. The lawsuit aims for a declaration that the flagship superheroes be ineligible for copyright termination. The stakes are quite high since Disney could face shared ownership of the characters, all of which are collectively worth billions, as proven by the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.
The head of Steve Ditko’s estate filed a notice of termination on Spider-Man in August. For copyright law, authors like Stan Lee or Steve Ditko or their heirs can reclaim rights after its given to publishers, but only after waiting a set amount of time. In this instance, Marvel would be forced to hand over Ditko’s rights to the heroes in June 2023.
The company created by Stan Lee is also seeing other termination notices. Back in May, Marvel writer Larry Lieber filed over what he had created. He was vital back in the 60s and 70s in the creation of Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man.
Marc Toberoff is representing the heirs of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, and the creator of Black Widow Don Rico. The intellectual property attorney is best known for representing Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in a failed termination from DC for Superman.
While counterclaims from DC won that case, there are some similarities to this new one with Marvel. While the lawyer representing the heirs of Stan Lee and other comic book creators, the attorney for Disney to protect its hold on these iconic superhero characters is the same representative for DC in that Superman case, Dan Petrocelli at O’Melveny. Petrocelli is currently filing multiple suits across New York and California against Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Patrick Ditko, Don Rico, and Keith Dettwiler.
The case on Stan Lee and his fellow comic book creators’ work will lean into the creation of the characters and who is considered to be the statutory author. The other side of the case will need to consider what is known as the Marvel Method – a common way comics are made which grants the artist freedom with the characters, and the story as they follow are a generalized plot that gets dialogue added later in the process.
Depending on how things go, if the plaintiffs win then, the Mouse House could hold on to some of the rights of the characters while sharing it with the heirs of the creators like Stan Lee. The profits would also need to be divided up between owners. Regardless of how it goes, this only applies to the United States, so whatever ruling that comes about would not affect foreign markets