Blockbuster lawsuits filed today will decide future ownership of characters including Iron Man and Spider-Man.
Disney’s Marvel unit is suing to hold onto Avengers characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Falcon, and others.
The complaints, which The Hollywood Reporter has obtained, come against the heirs of some late comic book geniuses including Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Gene Colan. The suits seek declaratory relief that these blockbuster characters are ineligible for copyright termination as works made for hire. If Marvel loses, Disney would have to share ownership of characters worth billions.
The heirs of the comic book creators (including Black Widow creator Don Rico) are being represented by Marc Toberoff, who once famously represented Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in an unsuccessful termination attempt against DC.
DC saved off termination by counterclaiming against Toberoff and asserting tortious interference of its rights. The publisher was represented by Dan Petrocelli at O’Melveny, who just so happens to be representing Disney now in its efforts to keep rights to various Avengers characters.
Petrocelli is filing several lawsuits in various jurisdictions against Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Patrick Ditko, Don Rico and Keith Dettwiler. The cases will focus on the creation of famous comic book characters and whether they should be deemed as works made for hire. If so, then the publisher would be deemed the statutory author.
Toberoff has a lot of experience doing this type of case.
Almost a decade ago, he represented the estate of comic book legend Jack Kirby over whether he could terminate a copyright grant on Spider-Man, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk and The Mighty Thor. In August 2013, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling that determined Kirby’s heirs couldn’t wrest back his share of rights to these characters because the former Marvel freelancer had contributed his materials as a work made for hire.