The mantra over at Stan Lee Media Inc must be “if first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Certainly that is its legal strategy. Almost three months after a federal judge in Colorado granted Disney’s request for dismissal of SLMI’s multibillion-dollar Marvel superhero copyright suit, the company is back in Pennsylvania court this week claiming it owns the rights to Spider-Man. “In response to Disney’s Spider-Man claims and/or in response to [American Music Theater's] counterclaims and third-party claims, SLMI respectfully seeks a declaratory judgment … that Disney cannot bar SLMI from using or licensing the Spider-Man copyrights and trademarks by virtue of the fact that SLMI (not Disney) is the owner of various copyrights and trademarks regarding Spider-Man and has properly licensed the copyrights and trademarks to AMT,” says the third-party defendant paperwork (read it here) filed Tuesday.
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This latest claim comes out of Disney’s recent copyright infringement suit over Spider-Man and other characters in Pennsylvania federal court against American Music Theater. The group, which also goes under the name Entertainment Theatre Company, uses the webslinger as well as Mary Poppins and elements of The Lion King in their regional Broadway: Now & Forever show. Specially, ATM has dancing Spider-Men onstage and scenes on a video monitor from the soon-to-close Broadway show Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. Disney served court papers on AMT in September in an effort to get them to “stop their infringing conduct.” A month later, ATM said it received the licensed rights to Spidey from SLMI and despite repeated legal losses, the latter has jumped in to get judicial confirmation of those rights.
Sweeping aside its recent loss in the Colorado courts, SMLI says in this case that comic legend Stan Lee signed over rights to comic book characters like Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Spider-Man and many more that he created or would create to its corporate predecessor in October 1998 for shares in the company. “Significantly, the Colorado District Court ruling does not adjudicate the merits of SLMI’s position that SLMI is the legal owner of Spider-Man (and other pre-1998 Lee created characters) under the Recorded Assignment,” says the latest filing. Lee no longer has anything to do with the company. In November 1998, Lee signed an agreement with Marvel handing over rights to the same characters. SMLI tried to file for bankruptcy just over a decade ago but saw that effort flame out in late 2006 after they failed to pay trustee fees. Since then the company has been on a legal search and destroy mission to garner some rights to Lee’s Marvel characters. Disney purchased Marvel for $4 billion in August 2009 and obviously has gone on to make a number of blockbusters featuring Lee characters. Sony has the feature film rights to Spider-Man in a deal established before Disney took over Marvel. So, following that logic, there are a number of people with rights to Spider-Man — none of them so far named Stan Lee Media Inc.
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