The GeeksverseComic Creator Rights Have Been a Tricky Situation

Comic Creator Rights Have Been a Tricky Situation
Published on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 by

Comic creator rights have been a tricky situation. Most of the original creators were working on contracts that did not grant them the rights to their own creations. Most of the legendary creators are not even celebrated as being the creator let alone paid any residual money on the current crop of movies, comics, toys, etc. One creator that has always seemed to profit from his early work is Marvel’s Stan Lee. Lee became a writer, editor, publisher, and executive of Marvel in its pre-Disney days. During those promotions he always seemed to come out on top.

Now, Newsarama is reporting that Stan Lee Media is suing Disney over ownership for classic Marvel characters.

Stan Lee’s former company is claiming ownership of the comic legend’s Marvel creations and seeking billions in damages from Disney, reports Deadline. The suit filed in Colorado court, claims that Lee signed the rights to characters he created at Marvel to Stan Lee Entertainment, Inc. — a predecessor to the plantiff in the current suit, Stan Lee Media — in October 1998, in exchange for shares in the company. Further in the complaint, Lee is said to have “signed a written agreement with Marvel” a month later in November 1998, “in which he purportedly assigned to Marvel the rights to the Characters” — an agreement Stan Lee Media is alleging to be fraudulent based on the prior deal.

It is important to note that Stan Lee’s name is part of this suit because his name is in both Stan Lee Entertainment and the later incarnation of Stan Lee Media. Stan Lee himself is not a defendant in this case at this time. This is a case of one company suing another company to own and make money from the classic characters that are now making money again.

As Lee’s Marvel creations are the subject of successful movies including the $1.5 billion grossing Avengers, Stan Lee Media is seeking “all gains profits and advantages derived by Defendant” within the statute of limitations.

Those characters that Stan Lee Media is trying to reclaim ownership of include Iron Man, Spider-Man, most of The Avengers, The X-Men and more. Not coincidentally those are the characters currently seeing a resurgence of popularity due to recent successful films. Due in part to the film profits this is a 5.5 billion dollar law suit.

This is the latest development in the complicated legal history of Stan Lee Media. Stan Lee Media was formed in 1998 to develop new properties in various forms of media before going bankrupt following the dot-com bust.  Stan Lee Media was also an important move by the former creator to leave Marvel and retain ownership.  Despite being bankrupt and more or less defunct, inn the past five years, Stan Lee Media has been involved in multiple lawsuits. Many of these lawsuits are based on the allegation that they are the rightful owners of Stan Lee’s many creations — including waging legal battle with Lee himself and a very similar suit seeking billions from Marvel in 2007 (two years before the company was purchased by Disney). In July of this year, a U.S. federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Stan Lee Media against Stan Lee.

Ownership of characters has been a complicated issue with many creators trying to win back ownership even after signing work for hire contracts. Some notable examples have been the on-going battles for ownership of Ghost Rider and Superman. Despite compelling story telling Gary Friedrich has won no claim to being the creator of Marvel’s flame head. On the other hand Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were awarded at least notoriety for their role in Superman. All Superman media gives credit to Siegel and Shuster as the creators. The families of Siegel and Shuster are still battling the WB and DC Comics for a piece of the Superman profits. WB has won victories on that front.

It is hard to beat the company contracts in these situations but it has happened in the past. Stan Lee Media is pushing for a jury trail, most likely so that they can try to convince a sympathetic jury  with a David and Goliath story. Only time will tell how this will work out.

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