Stan Lee Media Files Billion-Dollar Disney Lawsuit Over Marvel Characters

The Hollywood Reporter
Stan Lee Media Files Billion-Dollar Disney Lawsuit Over Marvel Characters
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Stan Lee Media Files Billion-Dollar Disney Lawsuit Over Marvel Characters

Stan Lee Media Inc. is back.

Despite years of court losses, the resilient company that was founded by Stan Lee in the late 1990s still is attempting to convince the world that it was robbed a decade ago of many of valuable franchises including Fantastic Four, X-Men and Spider-Man.

The latest move involves a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Disney for alleged copyright infringement. In a suit filed Tuesday, SLMI alleges that it has been assigned the rights to these characters, that Lee didn't properly assign the works to Marvel and that Disney has never recorded its agreement with Marvel with the U.S. Copyright Office. Essentially, SLMI says that the Disney-Marvel merger was a fantasy as large as one of Lee's creations.

Here's the complaint.

Just one problem: res judicata.

Yes, we've seen this argument before. In SLMI's latest complaint in Colorado federal court, the company admits a "tortured history of litigation" and goes through the many legal proceedings in Colorado, in New York and in California.

The full details of what happened are terribly complicated, but essentially, when SLMI went into bankruptcy a decade ago, its assets were raided, and SLMI shareholders have been attacking the perceived vultures ever since.

These efforts eventually culminated in a decision on Aug. 23 by California federal Judge Stephen Wilson.

In the ruling, Wilson addressed why he wouldn't allow SLMI to go forward with a lawsuit against Stan Lee --  res judicata, which the judge defined as barring lawsuits based on "any claims that were raised or could have been raised in a prior action."

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Wilson found that the lawsuit against Lee entailed an issue  -- whether Lee transferred to Marvel the same IP rights previously assigned to SLMI -- that was previously addressed in a prior case. So the judge dismissed it.

The ruling is now on appeal at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.

Meanwhile, SLMI is now attacking Disney and likely will face that very same res judicata issue.

So why does SLMI believe this case has a shot?

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According to the lawsuit, "SLMI is entitled to proceed with this copyright infringement lawsuit against Disney, based upon Disney's independently actionable conduct which occurred after April 2009, regardless of the outcome of SLMI's appeal to the 9th Circuit in the 2007 Case."

We'll see if a judge buys that, but SLMI's track record with judges isn't so mighty.

UPDATE: Disney responds: "This lawsuit is without merit; it arises out of the same core facts and legal claims that have been rejected by three federal district court judges."

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner

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