Disney sues comic book artists, brother of Stan Lee, over Marvel superheros – San Bernardino County Sun

By Chris Dolmetsch | Bloomberg
Walt Disney Co. has targeted several legendary comic book artists with lawsuits seeking to decisively establish that it owns the rights to Marvel superheroes they helped create.
The media giant, which acquired Marvel in 2009, on Friday sued Larry Lieber, who helped create the characters Iron Man, Thor and Ant-Man, and the estates of several other artists, including Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko and Black Widow co-creator Donald L. Heck. Disney asked federal courts in New York and Los Angeles to issue declaratory judgments that it alone owns the rights to those characters.
According to Disney, Lieber, the brother of late Marvel editor and publisher Stan Lee, and the heirs of the other artists served notices on the company this year indicating that they were terminating Marvel’s rights to characters including Spider-Man, Iron Man and Black Widow.
Those characters have all featured prominently in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the most successful film franchises of all time with 25 blockbusters released to date. The latest, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” the first Marvel film featuring an Asian actor as the star, set an all-time record for a film opening over the Labor Day weekend. Marvel characters have also been given starring roles in original series on Netflix and Disney’s own streaming service.

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 22: Josh Reddick #11 of the Los Angeles Dodgers poses for a for with comic book writer Stan Lee before the game against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Stan Lee, standing, publisher of Marvel Comics, discusses a “Spiderman” comic book cover with artist John Romita at Marvel headquarters in New York on Jan. 10, 1976. Marvel Comics are the world’s largest seller of comic books. Comic books are big business. More than 200 million are sold in the United States each year. Lee feels the human qualities of his protagonists endear them to readers. (AP Photo)

Mighty Marvel comic book publisher, Stan Lee, center left, blows out the candles on the Marvel Comics birthday cake at opening day ceremonies of the First Mighty Marvel Comic Book Convention, March 22, 1975, New York. At left is Lee’s wife Joan and on the far right, Spider-Man. Another Marvel Superhero, Captain America looks on from the rear. (AP Photo)

NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 23: (EXCLUSIVE ACCESS) Comic book legend Stan Lee poses at the opening reception for ”Stan Lee: A Retrospective” presented by the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art on February 23, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Mat Szwajkos/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – NOVEMBER 17: U.S. President George W. Bush congratulates Stan Lee, founder of POW! Entertainment after presenting him with the 2008 National Medals of Arts award during an event in the East Room at the White House November 17, 2008 in Washington, DC. During the event president Bush presented recipients with awards for the National Medals of Arts and the National Humanities Medal. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Comic book legend Stan Lee, left, creator of the “Black Panther” superhero, poses with Chadwick Boseman, star of the new “Black Panther” film, at the premiere at The Dolby Theatre on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – OCTOBER 18: Stan Lee and wife Joan arrive at The Hollywood Awards Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel October 18, 2004 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 02: Actor Tom Hiddleston (L) and author Stan Lee arrive at the premiere of Paramount Pictures’ and Marvel’s “Thor” held at the El Capitan Theatre on May 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 29: Actor Paul Rudd (L) and Executive Producer Stan Lee attend Audi celebrates the world premiere of “Ant-Man” at The Dolby Theatre on June 29, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 22: (L-R) Actress Chloe Bennet, writer Stan Lee and actress Ming-Na Wen attend the IMDb Yacht at San Diego Comic-Con 2016: Day Two at The IMDb Yacht on July 22, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)

LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 29: Comic book icon Stan Lee signs autographs for fans at the world premiere of Marvel’s “Ant-Man” at The Dolby Theatre on June 29, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Comic book creator Stan Lee stands beside some of his drawings in the Marvel Super Heroes Science Exhibition at the California Science Center in Los Angeles Tuesday, March 21, 2006. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Stan Lee arrives at the premiere of “The Avengers” in Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 11, 2012. “The Avengers” will be released in theaters May 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 11: (L-R) Stan Lee, actor Hugh Jackman, actor Ryan Reynolds and actress Brianna Hildebrand appear onstage at the 20th Century FOX panel during Comic-Con International 2015 at the San Diego Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

HOLLYWOOD, CA – OCTOBER 20: Actor Robert Downey Jr. (L) and executive producer Stan Lee attend The Los Angeles World Premiere of Marvel Studios? “Doctor Strange? in Hollywood, CA on Oct. 20th, 2016. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Stan Lee, founder, chairman, board of director and CCO, POW! Entertainment, arrives at “The Hollywood Reporter’s Key Art Awards” Powered by Clio on Thursday Oct. 24, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision for THR/AP Images)

President George W. Bush presents the 2008 National Medals of Arts to comic book creator Stan Lee, Monday, Nov. 17, 2008, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Stan Lee and host Kevin Smith on the #IMDboat at San Diego Comic-Con 2017 on the IMDb Yacht on July 21, 2017 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)

Stan Lee raises his hands after placing them in cement at his hand and footprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Comic book creator Stan Lee signs a fan’s “Iron Man 2” helmet after he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Stan Lee arrives for the premiere of “Iron Man” in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 30, 2008. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Comic book legend Stan Lee during the Stan Lee Spolight panel at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo at McCormick Place on Sunday, April 27, 2014, in Chicago. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP)

Marvel fan families and kids attend a special screening of Marvel Studios’ “DOCTOR STRANGE” in 3D hosted by Stan Lee at the El Capitan Theatre on October 23, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Disney)

Stan Lee, 79, creator of comic-book franchises such as “Spider-Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “X-Men,” smiles during a photo session April 16, 2002, in his office in Santa Monica, Calif. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Disney argues it has the right to any creations by Marvel comic book artists, as they were works made “for hire” and paid for by the page.
“Marvel assigned Lieber stories to write, had the right to exercise creative control over Lieber’s contributions, and paid Lieber a per-page rate for his contributions,” the company said. “As a result, any contributions Lieber made were at Marvel’s instance and expense, rendering his contributions work made for hire.”
The company pointed to a similar case involving the estate of another famous Marvel artist, Jack Kirby, in which federal courts held that his works were made for the company. Disney settled with Kirby’s family in 2014.
Marc Toberoff, the lawyer for Lieber and several of the artists’ estates, noted that he represented the Kirby family in the earlier dispute. According to Toberoff, the settlement prevented the case from going all the way to the Supreme Court, which the lawyer said he regretted and was now seeking to rectify.
“At the core of these cases is an anachronistic and highly criticized interpretation of ‘work-made-for-hire’ under the 1909 Copyright Act that needs to be rectified,” he said.
The suits are Marvel Characters Inc. v Lieber, 21-cv-7955; Marvel Characters Inc. v Ditko, 21-cv-7957; and Marvel Characters Inc. v Dettwiler, 21-cv-7959, all in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan); and Marvel Characters Inc. v Hart-Rico, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles.)
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