According to The Hollywood Reporter, Marvel has filed several lawsuits to maintain their copyrights over a handful of their best-known superheroes. The new lawsuits are directed at the heirs of their creators, including Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Gene Colan.
Under current U.S. laws, the author(s) of a given work (or their heirs) can usually reclaim the rights to that work for themselves after a certain period of time. But according to THR, Marvel is seeking “declaratory relief,” claiming that because these characters were created as works for hire, they are ineligible for copyright termination. The work-for-hire defense has been Marvel’s go-to strategy in the past, most notably in cases against Jack Kirby and his family.
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Last month, Ditko’s estate filed a termination notice for Spider-Man. If successful, it would remove Spidey from Marvel’s control by June 2023. Marc Toberoff is now representing the Ditko estate in these latest suits. He previously represented the Kirby family in a high-profile case against Marvel in 2013. Toberoff also represented Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in a similar case against DC. However, that attempt at copyright termination was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Dan Petrocelli is filing suits on Marvel’s behalf against Larry Lieber and the estates of Ditko, Don Heck, and Black Widow co-creator Don Rico. Ironically enough, Petrocelli also represented DC in the case against Siegel and Shuster. If Marvel doesn’t win the case, it could potentially lose several of its iconic characters. However, a settlement with the heirs would be a more likely outcome.
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