Marvel Pursues Copyrights, Sues Creators of Spider-man, Iron Man
After profiting in the billions from iconic characters, Disney is seeking to deprive the heirs of their creators from profit generated from Spider-man, Iron Man and other characters.
Disney filed Friday lawsuits against the families of creators, including writers and illustrators, who worked with the company in the '50s and '60s. Disney's Marvel sued the heirs in an attempt at denying them profit generated from key Marvel characters, such as Iron Man, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Thor, Doctor Strange, and more, under the pretext of the work qualifying as "work for hire." This doctrine entails that the employer, being Marvel, is considered the author even if an employee created it.
The artists created Marvel's most prominent superheroes and generated the company profits by the billions. They not only invented the characters who later became worldwide icons, but they also wrote their dialogue and designed their costumes.
Today, their heirs are being denied profits and intellectual rights.
The lawsuits seek declaratory relief that these renowned superheroes are ineligible for copyright termination, giving Marvel full control over them. The lawsuits, covered by The Hollywood Reporter, come against the heirs of several masterminds behind iconic Avenger characters such as Stan Lee, Marvel's most influential comic book creator and one its most distinguished faces, Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange alongside Stan Lee, and Gene Colan, the creator of Daredevil and co-creator of the Falcon.
If Marvel, the giant estimated by Forbes to be worth some $53 billion, were to lose this case, they would have to share ownership of characters worth billions, which also generated billions through blockbuster movies, streaming service series, merchandise, and much more.
Disney's lawsuits come to challenge the lawsuits filed by the estate of Steve Ditko, which could allow creators who had transferred their copyright to Marvel to terminate said transfer after a certain period of time has passed. Disney argues that that part of copyright does not apply in this case, citing 'work-for-hire' as a pretext, as the characters were drawn up under a 'for-hire' contract.
Another comic book artist that filed termination notices over creations was Larry Lieber, Stan Lee's brother, and the only living creator. He filed the lawsuit in May, and Marvel also sued him for the same reasons as the other comic book artists, i.e. trying to claim ownership of their intellectual property.
A for-hire contract stipulates that the copyright and intellectual ownership of a certain character go back to the employer rather than the party that created it. Disney is also arguing that the characters were created using the Marvel Method, a work style that saw writers sharing a synopsis of a comic with an artist, who then expanded that plot into a fully drawn comic book, which then had its captions and dialogue added by the writer upon completion. This argument uses the pretense that it is hard to pinpoint the exact creator of a comic book.
The Ditko estate's administration filed in August a notice of termination on Spider-Man, Marvel's biggest superhero. Under US copyright law, the termination would allow the creators or their heirs to reclaim rights previously granted to the comic book giant after a set period of time. As per the lawsuit, Disney's megacorp would have to 'give up' Ditko's rights to the web-slinging sensation in June 2023.
This was not the first move by authors or their heirs to claim the copyrights to characters their predecessors had created. The families of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had previously lost a similar lawsuit against Warner Bros over an attempt to recover the rights to the character.