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Spider-Man, Spider-Man, fighting IP litigation like a spider can

Stan Lee Media Inc. says it owns Spider-Man’s rights, but Disney wants an end to SLMI’s litigation once and for all

Spider-Man photo via Wikipedia

Oh, what a tangled web Spider-Man weaves, when first IP lawyers practice to deceive...

Who actually owns the rights to the money-making comic book character? Stan Lee Media Inc. believes that the rights to Spider-Man belong to Stan Lee, the successful Marvel comic book creator. Disney — and four previous court cases — believe, however, that Stan Lee’s creations belong to Marvel, which is now owned by Disney. Now, a district court may have the final say.

Stan Lee Media is trying to assert its IP rights once again in court. According to Deadline, at issue is the theater show Broadway: Now & Forever, produced by American Music Theater (AMT). AMT claims that it received permission to use Spider-Man’s likeness from SLMI. Disney, however, challenged that claim and attempted to have production halted. SLMI responded by suing to have its purported IP rights recognized.

Rather than passively settling, however, Disney has gone on the offensive. The company filed a counterclaim in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in which Disney lawyers asked the judge to dismiss the case and bar Stan Lee Media from further attempts to assert IP rights.

“Making SLMI’s patently frivolous ownership claims AMT’s defense to a straightforward copyright infringement suit gets neither of them anywhere,” Disney’s filing said. “Judge Crotty held some four years ago it was time to ‘call a halt’ to SLMI’s vexatious litigation. This Court should now end this SLMI-financed frolic and detour once and for all.”

Disney claims that SLMI is willfully misinterpreting a 1998 agreement between the two parties, in which Disney agreed to give control of assets created by Lee after 1998 to SLMI.

“It is clear on its face that the parties to the 1998 Agreement intended it to apply only to characters that Stan Lee was to create after 1998 and that it did not effect any transfer of ownership of characters created as works made for hire more than a half-century ago – nor could it have, as Lee has consistently maintained that he never owned any rights in any historic Marvel character,” Disney's filing said.

If Disney has its way, then SLMI may not have a further legal leg to stand on. SLMI lost a case in Colorado in December 2013 in which it had claimed rights to multiple Marvel characters, and another court ruled against SLMI claiming Marvel profits in a different forum earlier that year.


Disney’s lawyers have been getting a workout recently. Read more legal news from The Mouse:

IP: Mess with this Mouse, you might get stuck in a hole

FCC fines media companies over false E.A.S. use in commercial

Disney files suit over Frozen trademark infringement

Assistant Editor

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Zach Warren

Zach Warren is Assistant Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he oversees online content submissions and administers InsideCounsel's enewsletters. Zach specializes in new media and multimedia...

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