Stan Lee Media was back in court on Thursday, seeking to revive its lawsuit against co-founder and namesake Stan Lee for millions in profits and ownership of his Marvel co-creations.
Law 360 reports the failed dot com argued before a panel of the Ninth Circuit that the case shouldn’t have been dismissed in 2012 by a California federal judge simply because an identical action in New York was determined two years earlier to be time-barred. However, Lee’s attorney countered that the lead plaintiff in both shareholder actions was Jose Abadin, president of Stan Lee Media.
The backstory is familiar by now to ROBOT 6 readers, but here’s the CliffsNotes version: In 1998, during Marvel’s bankruptcy, CEO Isaac Perlmutter briefly ended its $1-million-a-year lifetime contract with Lee, freeing the legendary creator to form Stan Lee Entertainment, which later merged with Stan Lee Media. That company in turned filed for bankruptcy in February 2001; just four months after SLM emerged from protection in November 2006, shareholders filed a $5 billion lawsuit against Marvel.
That 2007 action, and virtually every one since then — against Lee, Marvel, Disney and others — hinges on a sequence of events that took place between August 1998, when Marvel terminated Lee’s employment, and November 1998, when Lee entered into a new agreement with the House of Ideas and signed over his likeness, and any claims to the characters he co-created. Stan Lee Media has long claimed that on Oct. 15, 1998, Lee transferred to that company the rights to his creations and his likeness. SLM has asserted that neither Marvel nor Disney, which bought the comic company in 2009, ever registered Lee’s November 1998 agreement with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Stan Lee Media’s legal efforts, which have been wholly unsuccessful to date, are backed by a group of investors that includes the $21 billion hedge fund Elliott Management.
SLM has long insisted that Lee colluded with his late partner Arthur Lieberman, Perlmutter and former Marvel Studios President Avi Arad to hide and misappropriate financial interests in such creations as Spider-Man, the Avengers, Iron Man and the X-Men.
That accusation surfaced again Thursday, after Judge Michael Daly Hawkins suggested it was suspect that Stan Lee Media didn’t list such valuable assets in its 1999 public filings or in its 2001 bankruptcy. SLM attorney Robert E. Kohn replied that Lee, then the company’s president, didn’t list his creations in an effort to hide that he’d signed over the characters to SLM a month before he transferred them to Marvel.
“I don’t think it’s evidence of anything other than that Mr. Lee covered it up,” he said.
Stan Lee Media, which in August was ordered to pay Disney $239,941 in attorney fees in another lawsuit regarding the Marvel characters, is also locking horns with the entertainment giant in what began has a seemingly straightforward copyright-infringement case involving a Pennsylvania theater company but quickly “transmogrified” into a battle over who owns Spider-Man.
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