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Stan Lee Media Inc. Sues Disney Over Marvel Superheroes Rights

10 Oct, 2012 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Marvel's 'The Avengers'


A former business venture created by Stan Lee has filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Co. claiming the media company owes it billions in profits generated by the theatrical, home entertainment and consumer products sales of Marvel characters depicted in Iron Man 2, Thor, X-Men: First Class, The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man.

The copyright infringement suit, filed Oct. 9 in U.S. District Court in Colorado in Denver, alleges that “representations made to the public by Disney” that it owns the rights to the superhero characters in the movies and hundreds others created by Lee “are false.”

The suit, which seeks a jury trial, alleges that Lee signed over the rights to the aforementioned characters and others in 1998 when he created Stan Lee Media Inc. That venture sought bankruptcy protection following the dotcom bust in 2000. An amended version of that agreement was filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 1998 underscoring SLMI’s ownership of the superhero characters, according to the complaint.

The suit claims Lee had no legal right in 1998 to sell copyrights of the superheroes and other characters to Marvel Inc. Disney bought Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion.

“Accordingly, the Marvel agreement actually assigned nothing,” read the complaint, adding that “neither Marvel, nor Disney as Marvel’s successor-in-interest as of Dec. 31, 2009, has ever publicly recorded the Marvel agreement with the United States Copyright Office.”

Interestingly, the suit erroneously attributes Disney to movies it was not directly involved with. Iron Man 2, the first movie released following Disney’s purchase of Marvel, and Thor were distributed by Paramount Pictures, which had a prior agreement with Marvel Studios. Disney subsequently bought out Paramount’s distribution stake to gain the rights to distribute The Avengers, which was released into the retail channel Sept. 25.

Sony Pictures produced and distributed The Amazing Spider-Man, while 20th Century Fox is the producer and distributor of the "X-Men" films, including First Class.

Iron Man 2 generated more than $122 million in disc sales since its Sept. 28, 2010, retail release, according to The-Numbers.com. Thor generated nearly $27 million in disc sales following its Sept. 13, 2011, street date. Fox’s X-Men: First Class generated about $25 million at retail, while The Amazing Spider-Man reboot will street Nov. 9.

Lawyers representing SLMI were not immediately available for comment. Deadline.com first reported this story.

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