Marvel, a company that is kinda still making comic books when it isn’t doing comic book movies and is owned by the Walt Disney Company, is on a lawsuit bender. The targets? The heirs of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, and many others who made iconic Marvel characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Doctor Strange.
Marvel is filing lawsuits against them to avoid losing copyright control over the characters, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The company is seeking a ruling that the characters were created as “work-for-hire”, thus not eligible for copyright termination.
The dispute started back in August when Ditko’s estate filed a notice of termination on Spider-Man (he co-created the hero with Stan Lee). According to US copyright laws, authors or heirs can reclaim the rights to their creations after a specific period of time; in this case the expiration date for usage is June 2023. Iron-Man co-creator Larry Lieber and Black Widow/Hawkeye co-creator Don Heck have also filed termination notices of their own. Marvel’s counter move? It claims that the creators were employees of the company and their works and contributions “were at marvel’s instance and expense”, thus do not hold any ownership in the characters they made.
Said filings are being handled and represented by Marc Toberoff, who was famous for representing Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in an unsuccessful termination attempt against DC.
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe being very successful, odds are Marvel will fight hard so that it won’t have to share its IP ownership with others. At the very least, the company should at least settle these and give the creators what they’re owed ala the Kirby estate copyright claims case back in 2009. That case was handled by Toberoff as well; it ended up being a win since it was settled out of court in Kirby’s favour.