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March 16, 2007

Stan Lee Media Sues Marvel for $5B

Stan Lee Media, the former vehicle for longtime Marvel Editor and writer Stan Lee's turn of the millennium foray into creator-owned on-line content and branding, has emerged from the ashes of its extended bankruptcy and filed suit against Marvel for five billion dollars over rights to the characters co-created by the "no longer with the company in any way including spirit" Lee.

The case seems to me kind of simple to understand, if you make allowances that not being a lawyer I'm using the language as a layperson so take the way I phrase things in that spirit rather than a strictly legal one. Plus, I could be completely wrong.

Anyhow, how I see it: the plaintiffs claim that in originally setting the terms of his involvement with Stan Lee Media, Lee assigned all rights and claims to ownership of everything he had rights to to SLM. These rights and claims came to include co-creator rights to Marvel because of the way Lee's last few contracts with Marvel had been negotiated. Lee used that same conception of his rights and claims to the Marvel characters to first file a lawsuit and then to negotiate a settlement with Marvel. SLM is basically saying that since Lee already assigned those rights to SLM, 1) Lee had no standing to settle an issue regarding those rights, and 2) SLM has retained the assigned rights all along.

As Dirk points out this morning, this point has been argued in the past by SLM co-founder Peter Paul. I talked to Mr. Paul a few times myself. From my perspective, his argument was always one of those things that seemed logical enough from an outsider's perspective for someone to pursue depending on what the particulars said, at least enough for a reasonable lay person to think it might be enough to serve as a matter of legal dispute. Although, then and now, playing "conjectural lawyer" is an exercise with severe limits. The move of SLM out of bankruptcy and that company becoming a place for agency of these claims is the big difference between now and then. Another slight difference I can recall from my talks with Mr. Paul is I think that a perceived future target if the matter were to be pursued was likely to be returning to company coffers those monies earned by Lee in exchange for his assignment, not the value of the characters themselves as perceived by SLM -- I admit I could be remembering that incorrectly.
posted 4:14 am PST | Permalink

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