Disney is no stranger to lawsuits, but the latest series of entanglements the company is entering into could cost the Mouse some serious money if they lose. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney’s Marvel unit has officially filed several lawsuits today that will ultimately decide who officially owns some of the Marvel universe’s biggest players such as Iron Man, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Falcon, and more.
The complaints, according to The Hollywood Reporter, come against the heirs of some of the biggest names in the comic books industry such as Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Gene Colan. The suits filed against these families seek to establish that several Marvel characters are ineligible for copyright termination as they are works made for hire. However, if Marvel’s justification for their ownership of the characters doesn’t hold up in court, the studio (and subsequently parent company Disney) will have to share ownership of these characters, potentially costing the company billions over time.
The lawsuits come shortly after the administrator of Ditko’s estate filed a notice of termination on Spider-Man following the character’s 50th anniversary. You see, according to copyright law, authors — or their heirs — are entitled to reclaim rights once granted to publishers after waiting a statutory set period of time, in this case that time being 50 years. If the termination notice goes through and Marvel’s lawsuits don’t intervene, Marvel will ultimately lose the rights to Spider-Man in June 2023.
To add even more pressure to Disney, Ditko’s estate isn’t the only one sending termination notices and taking action. This past May, Larry Lieber — Marvel legend Stan Lee’s brother — filed termination notices and the heir to Black Widow creator Don Rico has lawyered up as well. Interestingly enough, these heirs are largely being represented by Marc Toberoff, the same lawyer who fought DC Comics to give the rights to Superman back to his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Ultimately, Toberoff lost that case to DC’s lawyer Dan Petrocelli at O’Melveny — the very same lawyer now representing Marvel in what is sure to be an interesting time for the company and comic book enthusiasts.