Why Marvel Is Losing Rights To Spider-Man, Avengers & Other Characters – Screen Rant

Disney is fighting to retain copyright ownership of major MCU heroes, arguing that Marvel is actually the original owner of these characters.
In a few years, Marvel may lose the rights to major characters such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, Black Widow, and more due to the copyrights on those characters expiring. Marvel Studios has dominated the global box office thanks to the creation of the MCU that began with Iron Man in 2008, but each MCU film is an extension of a character first created by writers, editors, and artists at Marvel Comics – and therein lies a problem for Disney.
The Copyright Revision Act of 1976 asserts that copyright ownership should revert back to the original creators 60 years after a character or story’s creation. For many Marvel characters, that deadline is rapidly approaching. Writer and artist Larry Lieber, who is also the late Stan Lee’s brother, filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company to regain rights to Iron Man, Thor, and Ant-Man, all of which he co-created. Several other creators soon joined him including the estate of Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange; the estate of Don Heck, co-creator of Black Widow and Hawkeye; the heirs of Don Rico, co-creator of Black Widow; and the heirs of Gene Colan, co-creator of Blade, Falcon, and Carol Danvers.
Related: Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie, Ranked Worst To Best (Including Shang-Chi)
Disney is fighting to retain copyright ownership of these characters and has filed countersuits in response, claiming that the 1976 act does not apply in these cases. Instead, they argue that this work was done under work-for-hire contracts, which would mean Marvel is actually the original owner of these characters. Interestingly, the last lawsuit of this ilk, in which Jack Kirby’s estate sued Disney over the copyrights for X-Men, Spider-Man, and so on, a federal court ruled that Kirby’s work constituted as work-for-hire, but then in 2014, the case went to the Supreme Court, and Disney quickly settled out of court. So while there is precedent for this type of work being considered work-for-hire, there’s still a grey area and Disney could lose if a new court doesn’t fall in line with the previous Kirby case. In that case, Disney could lose the copyright ownership of several characters by 2023 – or shortly thereafter.
Attorney Marc Toberoff is representing all of the creators and their estates in the current lawsuit, and he has a history of doing so with similar cases in the past. He represented Jack Kirby’s estate during that previous lawsuit and has also represented the estates of Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, against Warner Bros. In all instances, the court decided in favor of the large corporations – Disney and Warner Bros. Although this does set a precedent for Disney succeeding once more, it does not necessarily indicate they will win this time.
Regardless, Disney losing the rights to these characters would not automatically mean they could not include the heroes in any future projects. Supposing they successfully negotiate with the new owners, they would still be able to make movies about Spider-Man and Doctor Strange as long as the owners received some of the profits (via licensing agreements). Also, since this only applies to U.S. copyright law, Marvel could potentially retain control over international distribution. If Disney loses their countersuit, Marvel will no longer have copyright ownership of some prominent characters in the MCU (or in the comics). Similar proceedings had resolved in their favor in the past, but only time will tell how this one ends. No matter what happens, though, audiences will most likely still be able to see their favorite superheroes fight together on the big screen.
Next: Every Upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie & TV Show In Development
Autumn Cejer is a Movie/TV Features Writer for Screen Rant. She has spent her life chatting about popular media to anyone who would listen, even appearing on conference panels to discuss her favorite (and least favorite) shows and movies. Autumn has a Master of Arts in English from Northern Michigan University, where she also taught superhero-themed composition courses. She spends her free time drinking coffee and trying to resist the urge to buy any new books before reading the many she already owns.


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