To date, the late renowned comic artist, Steve Ditko, remains one of the most enigmatic celebrities shrouded in their own mysterious ways. While he was best known as the co-creator of Spiderman and Doctor Strange, he was more famous for never even attempting to get a giant slice of the earnings made by the live-action adaptations of these characters. And yet now, more than two years after the demise of the legendary creationist Steve Ditko, his brother and heir Patrick Ditko has sued Marvel Entertainment to regain the rights to Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.
The termination notice, concerning Marvel’s rights to Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, has been submitted by the estate of the comic book legend Steve Ditko against Marvel Entertainment with the United States Copyright Office. Under the 1976 Copyright Act, Patrick Ditko is establishing the two Marvel superheroes as pure creations of Steve Ditko and something he assigned to Marvel Entertainment all those years ago in the early 60s. If this is indeed the case, such transferred rights can be terminated after 75 years. On the other hand, Marvel is claiming that Ditko was hired to create these characters. This by default makes Marvel Comics their legal owner, thus effectively nullifying the copyright claim as well as the possibility of the company’s termination of rights to Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.
Marvel Entertainment faced a similar incident to this one with Steve Ditko a few years ago when Jack Kirby’s heirs claimed that he created characters like Iron Man, Hulk, etc, and then transferred their rights to Marvel for monetary gain. Even though the Kirby heirs lost many of the lawsuits, Marvel ended up settling the matter outside court via millions of dollars. As Spider-Man and Doctor Strange are two of the most lucrative characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) now, it is obvious that Marvel will be fighting hard to prove its case. But if Steve Ditko’s brother does manage to establish that the comic book artist was an independent contractor and not a “work for hire,” they are in for a settlement worth millions of dollars as well.
Ironically enough, Steve Ditko, who passed away on June 29, 2018, at the age of 90 due to a heart attack, willingly walked away decades ago from the same classic characters for which his brother is suing Marvel. Some say that when he left Marvel Comics in 1966, it was because of his growing differences with Stan Lee while Blake Bell, author of Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, had shared that it was due to Marvel Studios’ failure in delivering the royalties it had promised him. Though Stan Lee, in a 2002 interview with the Los Angeles Times, stressed that he never got to know why Ditko left. The recluse celebrity who hardly ever gave an interview, surprisingly once told New York Post that he has not ever received any royalties from the Spider-Man films based on his work and nor did he even attempt to take what was rightfully his.
Currently, the termination notices from Steve Ditko’s estate state that Marvel Entertainment’s rights to Spider-Man and Doctor Strange will terminate on June 2, 2023 and June 9, 2023, respectively. Looks like Disney, which is already embroiled in the Black Widow lawsuit against Scarlett Johanson, will soon be joining forces with Marvel Entertainment to fight yet another legal battle.