Fresh on the heels of last year’s unsuccessful lawsuit by the family of comic book artist Jack Kirby against Marvel Comics for the use of many iconic superheroes, Deadline reports that Stan Lee’s former company Stan Lee Media Inc (SLMI) is now suing Disney for the rights to iconic superhero characters for a whopping $5.5 billion.
While Disney naturally denies any rights made by SLMI to the characters due to its purchase of Marvel Comics in 2009 SLMI is adamant that they are the true holders of the IP rights to the many superheroes.
The cause for the legal confusion goes back to October 1998 when Stan Lee signed over the rights to the characters to SLMI in exchange for company stock. The company later went bankrupt at the end of the dot-com boom and was unable to file bankruptcy (therefore the stock was worthless), however they still had the legal rights for the characters filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as of March 2000.
Because of SLMI holding the rights to the characters since October of ’98 they argue that Stan Lee’s signing over of them to Marvel in November of ’98 is nullified, and along with it Disney’s right to the characters following its acquisition of Marvel Comics on December 31, 2009. Apparently the agreement to use the characters in the films today was also never recorded in the United States Copyright Office, therefore Disney has actually been (allegedly) using the Marvel characters (or at least FORMER Marvel characters) for years without the proper owners’ consent.