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Stan Lee's former company sues Disney for billions, claiming it doesn't actually own any Marvel characters

Oct. 10, 2012by: Alejandro Stepenberg

The Avengers - prepped for battle

An AVENGERS-style throw-down may be about to happen, albeit with the American legal system as its battleground rather than New York City.  For those of you (like me) who are a bit foggy (Nelson) when it comes to legal terminology and the like, here's the very basic gist of the whole deal at hand:

Stan Lee once had a company called Stan Lee Media, Inc.  And the current people who run the company are now saying that "Lee signed over the rights to comic book characters that he created or would create to its corporate predecessor in October 1998. The comic writer and publisher was paid for the rights in shares in Stan Lee Media, Inc. The shares later proved worthless when the dot-com bubble burst at the end of the 1990s, leaving the company to unsuccessfully seek bankruptcy protection in 2001."  Which is all well and good - not really, because having to declare bankruptcy is never good - and brings us round to today's complaint.  See, what has now happened is that SLMI is claiming "an amended version of that October 1998 agreement was filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in March 2000, clearly indicating its rights." 

So what does this all mean in regards to Stan Lee, Disney, Marvel, and smashing success of THE AVENGERS? Well in the words of SLMI's suit: “Oddly, in November, 1998, Stan Lee signed a written agreement with Marvel Enterprises, Inc. in which he purportedly assigned to Marvel the rights to the Characters. However, Lee no longer owned those rights since they had been assigned to SLEI previously. Accordingly, the Marvel agreement actually assigned nothing... defendant The Walt Disney Company has represented to the public that it, in fact, owns the copyright to these characters as well as to hundreds of other characters created by Stan Lee. Those representations made to the public by The Walt Disney Company are false.”  SLMI is currently seeking “the maximum statutory damages allowable,” along with full control of all sorts of characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and most of The Avengers and X-Men.  

Because there's going for the jugular, and then there's going at it with Wolverine's claws.  Oy.  Stay tuned for more as we hear how this whole thing shakes out, true believers.

Scarlett Johansson lying on a table

Extra Tidbit: Is there any imaginable reason why this suit might have taken so long, except to wait and see just how much money was made first?

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1:48AM on 10/12/2012
So the IP version of a copyright troll is trying to take on Disney? LOL
So the IP version of a copyright troll is trying to take on Disney? LOL
Your Reply:



2:41PM on 10/11/2012
I had always believed & this is just basic economics that when you go bankrupt, you are not just giving up on money but everything you own & that is now belong to the government or whomever takes over. If thats the case than this easily a cash grab case since they lost the rights during bankruptcy.
I had always believed & this is just basic economics that when you go bankrupt, you are not just giving up on money but everything you own & that is now belong to the government or whomever takes over. If thats the case than this easily a cash grab case since they lost the rights during bankruptcy.
Your Reply:



4:43PM on 10/10/2012

Not Necessarily what you think

Statute of Limitations for Bankruptcy is 7 years, and who knows how long this has been lingering behind closed doors. I can legitimately see this being strictly the company only now financially being able to support such a large legal battle. This kind of excites me and I hope for a huge battle, as long as it doesn't stop movies from being made.
Statute of Limitations for Bankruptcy is 7 years, and who knows how long this has been lingering behind closed doors. I can legitimately see this being strictly the company only now financially being able to support such a large legal battle. This kind of excites me and I hope for a huge battle, as long as it doesn't stop movies from being made.
Your Reply:



+8
4:09PM on 10/10/2012

Disney Lawyers

Good luck against THAT legal team.
Good luck against THAT legal team.
Your Reply:



+6
4:04PM on 10/10/2012
I'd like to think that this is a text book cash grab by greedy people that the legal system will see through and sanity will prevail. However, this is going to take place within the US legal system...and I consequently worry about worst case scenarios becoming reality.
I'd like to think that this is a text book cash grab by greedy people that the legal system will see through and sanity will prevail. However, this is going to take place within the US legal system...and I consequently worry about worst case scenarios becoming reality.
Your Reply:



3:31PM on 10/10/2012
Here we go again with these lawsuits...
Here we go again with these lawsuits...
Your Reply:



12:36PM on 10/10/2012
So here's a question, if SLMI wins this, do you think they'd go after FOX and Sony for their properties? I mean, sure, Disney is the Big Kahuna. I doubt that SLMI actually gives a damn about the characters, they just want a chunk of the money. Disney's got plenty of it, too. And a billion-dollar franchise to protect. So while it might be nice if something like this could bring all the characters under one roof, it's highly improbable SLMI's ambitions are that high, considering their status.
So here's a question, if SLMI wins this, do you think they'd go after FOX and Sony for their properties? I mean, sure, Disney is the Big Kahuna. I doubt that SLMI actually gives a damn about the characters, they just want a chunk of the money. Disney's got plenty of it, too. And a billion-dollar franchise to protect. So while it might be nice if something like this could bring all the characters under one roof, it's highly improbable SLMI's ambitions are that high, considering their status.
Your Reply:



11:55AM on 10/10/2012
"Success drives a man insane."
"Success drives a man insane."
Your Reply:



+10
11:47AM on 10/10/2012
Scarlett is hot
Scarlett is hot
Your Reply:



-14
11:43AM on 10/10/2012
give them Captain America. win-win.
give them Captain America. win-win.
Your Reply:



11:30AM on 10/10/2012

Hmph

Using the legal system for thievery doesn't make it not thievery.
SLMI wants to get damages and money but it didn't create the characters, the films the merchandising the investment to make the Marvel world expand. They would crush the creativity in a naked money grab, they don't do anything just make some claim that they own such and such. SLMI, really what DAMAGES are they entitled to? Disney hasn't damaged them in any way. They were bankrupt before Marvel entered into an agreement
Using the legal system for thievery doesn't make it not thievery.
SLMI wants to get damages and money but it didn't create the characters, the films the merchandising the investment to make the Marvel world expand. They would crush the creativity in a naked money grab, they don't do anything just make some claim that they own such and such. SLMI, really what DAMAGES are they entitled to? Disney hasn't damaged them in any way. They were bankrupt before Marvel entered into an agreement with Disney. Looks like we need a super hero to fight against injustice, greed and blatant theft. SLMI is criminal in its intent, clearly, to take the profits other earned by hard work.
Your Reply:



4:48PM on 10/10/2012
Let's say you own something that is currently worthless. Next year, your buddy, without your permission, signs away the rights to that worthless thing, and suddenly it makes a billion dollars. You're going to sit there and accept it. That's your logic.
Let's say you own something that is currently worthless. Next year, your buddy, without your permission, signs away the rights to that worthless thing, and suddenly it makes a billion dollars. You're going to sit there and accept it. That's your logic.
+20
10:12AM on 10/10/2012

Disney must be shaking in its boots...

No. They aren't. It's a cash-grab by a bankrupt corporate entity. Happens all the time. If they can get Disney to give them some money to go away it may be less than the cost of a protracted legal battle. As far as I know, Stan Lee doesn't and has never had any copyright claim to the characters he created in Marvel's heyday. Never has. He was work for hire and Marvel owned all of the intellectual property he produced. He can't have signed away what he never owned to begin with. It's why he has
No. They aren't. It's a cash-grab by a bankrupt corporate entity. Happens all the time. If they can get Disney to give them some money to go away it may be less than the cost of a protracted legal battle. As far as I know, Stan Lee doesn't and has never had any copyright claim to the characters he created in Marvel's heyday. Never has. He was work for hire and Marvel owned all of the intellectual property he produced. He can't have signed away what he never owned to begin with. It's why he has spent his adult life doing anything for a buck. If he had the rights to those characters he would be a multi-millionaire if not a billionaire. This is just a shake down.
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-31
9:12AM on 10/10/2012
Do people remember fan reaction when Disney acquired Marvel? Mostly, we did not think the new situation a good thing. To some extent, the subsequent time has proven our concerns meritous. To some extent, Disney has been a good influence. However, either way, this lawsuit could remove the Marvel characters and stories from large corporate hands. Perhaps, a smaller company could control the storylines for a niche, cult audience, and smaller companies are sometimes a good thing.
IOW, this lawsuit
Do people remember fan reaction when Disney acquired Marvel? Mostly, we did not think the new situation a good thing. To some extent, the subsequent time has proven our concerns meritous. To some extent, Disney has been a good influence. However, either way, this lawsuit could remove the Marvel characters and stories from large corporate hands. Perhaps, a smaller company could control the storylines for a niche, cult audience, and smaller companies are sometimes a good thing.
IOW, this lawsuit is not necessarily all bad. Do you trust Disney to do right by Marvel's fans in the future? Have they always done right by the fans in recent times?
Your Reply:



+39
8:50AM on 10/10/2012

Here's a best-case scenario...

...this company, SLMI, wins the suit...and regains all rights to all Marvel characters, including X-men, FF, etc. Then Stan Lee himself sues THAT company, claiming that the paperwork he signed with SLMI giving away his rights was bogus. Stan Lee wins THAT suit, and he regains all rights. Then Stan Lee signs over all the rights to all the characters to Disney for billions. Stan Lee becomes a billionaire, and we all get to see Marvel movies with full character cross-overs for the next twenty
...this company, SLMI, wins the suit...and regains all rights to all Marvel characters, including X-men, FF, etc. Then Stan Lee himself sues THAT company, claiming that the paperwork he signed with SLMI giving away his rights was bogus. Stan Lee wins THAT suit, and he regains all rights. Then Stan Lee signs over all the rights to all the characters to Disney for billions. Stan Lee becomes a billionaire, and we all get to see Marvel movies with full character cross-overs for the next twenty years :)
Your Reply:



+17
8:23AM on 10/10/2012
Money. It's all about money.
Money. It's all about money.
Your Reply:



8:22AM on 10/10/2012
The fact that they waited so long makes me think the suit is ridiculous. This is a shakedown and nothing more. Who knows if it will be a successful shakedown, though.
The fact that they waited so long makes me think the suit is ridiculous. This is a shakedown and nothing more. Who knows if it will be a successful shakedown, though.
Your Reply:



10:12AM on 10/10/2012
Lol seriously. They wait for Marvel to have like 15 movies planned, with a bunch of already successful movies to pull this crap. They don't care about the characters they only see $$$
Lol seriously. They wait for Marvel to have like 15 movies planned, with a bunch of already successful movies to pull this crap. They don't care about the characters they only see $$$
+42
8:09AM on 10/10/2012
And companies wonder why people hate the modern copyright system in this country. Why didn't they sue after the success of Spider-Man or X-men? Why wait this long? I hope a judge flattens these guys in court, uses them as paper to roll a joint and then smokes it.
And companies wonder why people hate the modern copyright system in this country. Why didn't they sue after the success of Spider-Man or X-men? Why wait this long? I hope a judge flattens these guys in court, uses them as paper to roll a joint and then smokes it.
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