So, what happens when the heirs to some of the most profitable comic book properties threaten to take back their legal property? Well they get sued, of course.
In a blockbuster lawsuit filed today in court, Disney and Marvel are suing the heirs of some of its most popular IP's in an attempt to hold on to full control of Avengers characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Falcon, Thor and others.
The suits come against the heirs of some late comic book geniuses including Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Gene Colan. The verbiage in the suit says that the heirs (you know... the actual owners) of these characters are ineligible for copyright termination as the properties were created as works made for hire.
So what does this mean in layman's terms? Essentially, the heirs of comic greats like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and the like technically still own these properties and can file termination suits against Marvel and Disney to regain sole ownership of their properties and do with them what they wish. Well, this doesn't sit well with The Mouse.
In a statement by Disney's attorney, Daniel M. Petrocelli, “Since these were works made for hire and thus owned by Marvel, we filed these lawsuits to confirm that the termination notices are invalid and of no legal effect”
Similar termination lawsuits have been filed by families and estate holders of comic book properties like Superman and Ghost Rider, although in the end, the studios did prevail and continue to gain control of the properties.
In August, the administrator of Steve Ditko’s estate filed a notice of termination on Spider-Man, which first appeared in comic book form in 1962. Under the termination provisions of copyright law, authors or their heirs CAN reclaim rights once granted to publishers after waiting a statutory set period of time. According to the termination notice, Marvel would have to give up Ditko’s rights to its iconic character in June 2023.