Disney gets legal fees, judge's criticism in Stan Lee Media case

A federal judge in Colorado has awarded Disney $239,941 in attorney fees in one of its legal battles with Stan Lee Media over the rights to the Marvel characters co-created by Stan Lee -- half of what the entertainment giant was seeking.

Law360 reports that U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez on Thursday admonished Disney's attorneys for requesting $461,882, which he found "grossly excessive," while also maintaining that Stan Lee Media was unreasonable in its pursuit of copyright claims after three other courts already determined there was no legal basis for the suit.

“It shocks the court’s conscience that defendants would bill almost half a million dollars, or 900 hours, on a case with minimal discovery that was resolved on a motion to dismiss," the judge wrote.

It was Martinez who in September granted Disney's motion, dismissing Stan Lee Media's 2012 copyright-infringement lawsuit and saying it would be "futile" to permit the failed dot-com -- which has had no connection to its co-founder and namesake for more than a decade -- to amend its claim.

Stan Lee Media had argued its lawsuit was reasonable enough to avoid having to pay Disney's attorney fees, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's recent Raging Bull decision. However, Martinez didn't buy it, saying another court had already ruled the statute of limitations had long ago expired on its 1998 agreement with Stan Lee (we'll get to that in a moment), and that two other courts had prohibited the company from bringing any more claims under that contract.

As we've recounted numerous times before, Stan Lee Media's seemingly tireless claims of copyright ownership are rooted in Marvel's bankruptcy, when in 1998 CEO Isaac Perlmutter ended the $1 million-a-year lifetime contract with Stan Lee and, the argument goes, negating the legendary writer's assignment to the company of his rights to his co-creations. Freed from his obligations to Marvel, Lee formed Stan Lee Entertainment, which later merged with Stan Lee Media. That company in turned filed for Chapter 11 in February 2001. Shortly after SLM emerged from federal bankruptcy protection in 2006, its shareholders began a series of lawsuits — against Marvel, Lee, Disney and others — to assert the company’s stake in Lee’s Marvel co-creations.

Stan Lee Media so far has been unsuccessful in all of its lawsuits.

Martinez's September decision didn't bring an end to Stan Lee Media's legal quest, however: There's an appeal of the dismissal before the Tenth Circuit, and SLM also inserted itself into a copyright-infringement case involving Disney and a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, theater company, and seeks a declaratory judgment that it, and not Disney, owns Spider-Man and the other characters at issue.

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