Turns out the Walt Disney Company really does own the rights to the Marvel characters created by Stan Lee, at least according to a federal judge today. U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez Thursday granted with prejudice Disney’s motion to dismiss Stan Lee Media’s multibillion-dollar lawsuit superhero copyright suit. In his 11-page order (read it here) Martinez did little to hide his annoyance with the litigious SLMI. “Plaintiff has tried time and again to claim ownership of those copyrights; the litigation history arising out of the 1998 Agreement stretches over more than a decade and at least six courts,” he wrote of the company’s many legal moves.
This latest attempt started in mid-October 2012 when SLMI filed a copyright infringement complaint seeking the profits from the $5.5 billion it said that Disney made from Marvel superhero movies and merchandise based on characters created by Lee. In its suit, SLMI claimed that Lee, who no longer has anything to do with the company with his name, signed over the rights to comic book characters like Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Spider-Man and many more that he created or would create to its corporate predecessor in October 1998 for shares in the company. In November 1998, Lee signed an agreement with Marvel handing over the rights to the same characters. In late November 2012, Disney, who purchased Marvel for $4 billion in 2009, filed its motion to dismiss, calling the lawsuit is “completely frivolous.” The November 30 motion to dismiss, like the initial suit by SLMI, was filed in Colorado.
Judge Martinez obviously agreed with Disney and he wants to make sure that SLMI think twice before trying to use the courts in such a manner again. “Taking its cue from the Southern District of New York and the Central District of California, this Court holds that Plaintiff is precluded from re-litigating the issue of its ownership of copyrights based on the 1998 Agreement, which issue was decided against it,” he wrote today. Disney was represented by James Quinn, R. Bruce Rich and Randi W. Singer of New York’s Weil Gotshal & Manges and Frederick J. Baumann and Holly Ludwig of Denver firm Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons. Stan Lee Media was represented by John McDermott of the Denver office of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and Robert Chapman and Jon Jamison Hill out of the LA’s Eisner Kahan Gorry Chapman Ross & Jaffe.