Despite Disney’s best legal efforts, perpetually litigious Stan Lee Media Inc is not going quietly into the Pennsylvania night with its claims to Spider-Man. Today SLMI fired back at the media giant’s attempts to shut it down once and for all last month with assertions of time-barred claims and the fact that it is a dissolved corporation. “It is Disney’s burden to prove Disney’s ownership of the copyrights to Spider‐Man. Prior litigation cannot bar [American Music Theater], and concomitantly SLMI, from defending itself by showing Disney’s assertion is wrong,” says the dense and exhibit heavy filing in federal court in the Keystone State (read it here). “No judge has decided that Disney actually owns the Spider‐Man copyrights or, for that matter, that SLMI does not own the copyrights,” adds the opposition to Disney Enterprises’ motion to dismiss SLMI from its copyright case against American Music Theater. AMT also filed paperwork (read it here) in opposition to Disney’s motion to toss its counterclaims and SLMI from the case. This latest kick at the can by the repeatedly defeated SLMI over its claims over various Marvel characters created by Stan Lee — who no longer has anything to do with the company that bears his name — seems certainly to clog up the courts for at least a little while longer.
During an unsuccessful move into bankruptcy and since, SLMI has long claimed that that Lee signed over the rights to comic book characters such as Iron Man, the Hulk, Fantastic Four, 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. Since falling into financial disarray, the company has proclaimed over and over that it still holds those rights. Yet, in November 1998, Lee signed an agreement with Marvel handing over the rights to the same characters. Disney purchased Marvel for $4 billion in 2009 and has gone on to bring several of the company’s legendary superhero characters to the big screen in one blockbuster after another. In a deal put together with Marvel before Disney bought it, Sony Pictures has the feature film rights to Spider-Man, with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 set to be released May 2.
Today’s long-shot claims and this latest case arose out of Disney slapping AMT with court papers in September to stop the theater group — also known as Entertainment Theatre Company — from using Spidey, portions of The Lion King and Mary Poppins in its regional show Broadway: Now & Forever. In October, AMT filed papers of its own claiming it hadn’t done anything wrong with using the webslinger because it got permission from rights holder SLMI. In December, SLMI, who had lost a claim in federal court in Colorado on several Marvel characters and the multibillion-dollar profits from them in September, jumped into the AMT case itself. Last month, Disney began its effort to get SLMI out. How long that will or won’t take in this civil action is up to Judge Jeffrey Schmehl.
David Landau, Aliza Karetnick, Robert Palumbos and Jessica Priselac of the Philadelphia offices of Duane Morris represent SLMI. A praetorian guard of lawyers from NYC and Philadelphia firms represent Disney Enterprises in the case.