Stan Lee Media, Inc. wants the profits from the $5.5 billion it says the Walt Disney Company has made from superhero movies and merchandise based on characters created by Stan Lee. Those characters include Iron Man, Spider-Man, most of The Avengers, The X-Men and more. “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,” says the company’s copyright infringement complaint filed today (read it here) in a Colorado court. SLMI, which Lee himself has nothing to do with nowadays, is seeking “the maximum statutory damages allowable” plus full control over Iron Man, Spider-Man and other characters. A failed party to past litigation with Lee himself and Marvel, SLMI also is seeking a jury trial in this case.
In its suit, SLMI says 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. In its complaint today, SLMI says 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. “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,” the suit notes. Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion in August 2009 with the deal confirmed at the end of that year. Stan Lee Media Inc. is represented by John McDermott of Denver’s Brownstein Hyatt Faber Schreck and Robert Chapan and Jon-Jamison Hill of Beverly Hills’ Eisner, Kahan & Gorry.