It looks like Marvel has found itself tied up in some legal issues — and not the kind that Daredevil can sort out. The Hollywood Reporter writes that the company is suing several heirs of some of its iconic writers and artists in order to maintain the copyright of multiple Avengers characters, including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Widow, Falcon, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and more. The complaints center around the legal issue of copyright termination — or the idea that Marvel could lose the rights to recreate and continue using some of their most iconic characters.
According to THR, the complaints have been filed against the heirs of late comic book icons Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Gene Colan, as well as Black Widow creator Don Rico, and who have filed claims for copyright termination. As part of the claims, these original authors (or their heirs, rather) can seek the termination of copyright — or the exclusive rights to make copies of a work — granted to their characters that were created as “works for hire” for larger publishers, after waiting a certain number of years. Lawsuits have been filed against Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Patrick Ditko, Rico, and Keith Dettwiler. Disney will co-own the rights if these cases are ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, rather than possessing sole ownership. The studio would also have to share any profits involved.
The lawsuit comes after the administrators of Ditko’s estate filed a notice of termination on the character of Spider-Man, who had been created by the artist as a piece for hire in 1962. Other termination notices have also been filed, and if Marvel does not succeed in preventing termination for any or all of these characters, they will begin to lose copyrights starting in June 2023.
This is not the first time this type of litigation has occurred over comic book characters. Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, creators of Superman, filed for termination of rights against DC for their iconic characters, a battle that would continue for decades — even after their deaths — ultimately unsuccessfully. Marvel has even put up with this kind of issue before when Jack Kirby’s estate sought termination of copyright on Spider-Man, the X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, and The Mighty Thor, which also ended in success for the publisher.
How this particular case will play out is yet to be determined, but THR reports that the litigation, represented by Dan Petrocelli, is set to focus on the importance of the so-called Marvel Method, a “loose collaborative working atmosphere where initial ideas were briefly discussed with artists responsible for taking care of the details.” If only a real superhero were here to sort things out…