Stan Lee Media can't assert Spider-Man ownership in Disney suit

Still reeling from its loss Wednesday in the Ninth Circuit, Stan Lee Media today suffered another defeat in Pennsylvania, where a federal judge ruled the failed dot-com can't insert itself into Disney's dispute with a theater company by asserting ownership of Spider-Man.

As you may recall, Disney in September 2013 sued Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based American Music Theatre, claiming its musical revue Broadway: Now and Forever used unlicensed elements Spider-Man, Mary Poppins and The Lion King. However, as Disney's attorneys later noted, that “simple case” was “transmogrified” when the theater announced it had retroactively licensed Spider-Man … from Stan Lee Media.

That conveniently opened the door for the company to sue Disney, seeking a jury trial regarding ownership of Spider-Man, an issue Stan Lee Media argued had never been directly addressed by any court. It was certainly a creative maneuver using one of the few potential paths left to pursue its fight with Marvel and Disney (a clearly annoyed judge had warned in September 2013 that any attempt to amend its previous lawsuit against the House of Mouse would be “futile").

This lawsuit, like the myriad others, is based on Stan Lee Media's insistence that between August 1998, when Marvel terminated Lee’s $1 million-a-year lifetime contract, and November 1998, when he entered into a new agreement with the House of Ideas, the legendary creator signed over his likeness and the rights to all of the characters he co-created to Stan Lee Entertainment, which later merged with Stan Lee Media. That company, which hasn't been connected to its co-founder and namesake in more than a decade, in turned filed for bankruptcy in February 2001, emerging from protection in 2006. Shortly thereafter, the lawsuits began; none has been successful.

A frustrated Disney asked the judge in March to put an end to Stan Lee Media's "frolic," arguing that not only have four federal courts precluded the company from relitigating its ownership of the copyrights based on its 1998 agreement with Lee, but that its claims are barred by a three-year statute of limitations.

And, as Hollywood Esq. reports, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Schmehl agreed, writing, "These issues have previously been addressed in one form or another by multiple courts around the country."

What's left for Stan Lee Media, which has suffered loss after loss over the past seven years? Well, there's the case pending before the 10th Circuit, which involves the same issues as this one (although without the American Music Theatre caught in the middle). And, of course, there are inevitable appeals in some of these other lawsuits. After all, Stan Lee Media draws from deep pockets — an investment group backed by the $21 billion hedge fund Elliott Management — and it's unlikely to back down until all avenues are closed.

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