The news might come as a shock, but The Hollywood Reporter recently disclosed that Disney is suing the comic book writer Stan Lee’s family in order to own the copyrights to some of its principal characters like Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Widow, Ant-Man, Thor, Falcon, and more. While the writer’s name, along with other comic book creators, has been connected to Marvel Studios’ for decades now, this action by Disney is certainly drawing eyes.
The Hollywood Reporter got their hands on some documents that state that the lawsuit is filed against the heirs of Marvel creators Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Gene Colan. It directs at the franchise’s primary characters, claiming to make them ineligible for copyright termination. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a massive name in the industry and it is no brainer that the flagship superheroes together are worth billions, which raises the stakes for Disney as it could be offered shared ownership.
In August 2021, the head of Steve Ditko’s estate filed a notice for copyright termination. According to the law, it is the right of authors like Stan Lee or Steve Ditko or their heirs to retrieve their rights even after it is given to the publishers, given they wait for an aforementioned period of time. In this case, Marvel would have to give up the rights to Spider-Man back to Steve Ditko in June 2023.
Not only this, Stan Lee’s company is looking at other characters’ copyright termination as well. In May 2021, Marvel writer Larry Lieber, who was well known in the 60s and 70s for creating Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man, filed a complaint to claim his creations.
Marc Toberoff, who is a property attorney, is representing the heirs of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, and Black Widow creator Don Rico. Toberoff is an intellectual and was in the light for also representing Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in a failed termination from DC for Superman.
Despite losing the case to counterclaims from DC, the case with Marvel has a few facts that are parallel. While Toberoff is representing the defenders, which are the heirs of Stan Lee and other comic book creators, Dan Petrocelli at O’Melveny, the attorney who represented the case for DC to reserve the rights for Superman, is the same as the one representing Disney to keep its claim over Marvel’s flagship characters. Dan Petrocelli is reportedly filing multiple suits across New York and California against Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Patrick Ditko, Don Rico, and Keith Dettwiler.
Disney’s case on heirs of Stan Lee and the other comic book creators’ work will pan out to decide the ownership of the creation of characters as well as the declaration of who is the rightful author. Whereas the opposite side of the case will work through on the basis of something called the Marvel Method. The Marvel Method is a technique where comics are written in a way where the author gets all the liberty to create their characters, and their story is pretty much generalised to follow a certain plot, while things such as dialogue are affixed later as they move forward.
According to the way the case proceeds, if Disney wins its claim, the House of Mouse will probably own the rights to the principal characters and share it in part with the heirs of Stan Lee and other creators. Not only that, Disney would have to divide the profits with all the owners going ahead. Irrespective of how things work out, the claim only pertains to the United States. This means that the foreign market would remain unbothered by whatever the results are.