At this very moment, The Walt Disney Company finds itself embroiled in a legal battle with Scarlett Johansson over the simultaneous theatrical/streaming release of Black Widow. Now, Marvel Entertainment, a subsidiary of Disney, is in a legal situation that involves the character, and it’s for a totally different reason. This past week, the company filed five lawsuits in an attempt to block the heirs of several comic book creators from laying claim to the copyrights of several of the comic book company’s biggest characters.
Termination notices were recently filed on behalf of Larry Lieber, the brother of the late Stan Lee and co-creator of Spider-Man, Thor and more, as well as the estates of Don Rico, who co-created Black Widow, Don Heck, co-creator of Iron Man and Black Widow, Gene Colan, who launched names like Captain Marvel and Blade, and finally, Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. All parties are being represented by veteran attorney Marc Toberoff, per Variety.
Marc Toberoff asserts that because the characters in question have resulted in massive franchises, the heirs of the creators should be allowed to partake in the revenue they generate. In a statement to Variety, Toberoff argued that this case boils down to the rights of the artists:
This actually isn’t the first time Marc Toberoff has represented the estates of veteran comic book creators. He previously represented the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and those of comic book artist Jack Kirby, who helped create Marvel characters like Captain America and Thor. In the Kirby case, the federal court ruled in favor of Marvel, reasoning that the characters were made while the creators were engaged in work-for-hire arrangements.
Marvel is reportedly making that same argument here, and Daniel Petrocelli, one of the company’s lawyers, argues that these new cases present “virtually identical circumstances.” However, Marc Toberoff asserts that in the eyes of the law at that time, the comics were not made under work-for-hire contracts. It’s his belief that the comics creators were independent contractors who merely assigned their work to the publishers.
Marvel is not pursuing any damages in this legal situation but ultimately wants a declaration asserting that it holds the copyrights to the characters. Should the court rule against Marvel, the company would not lose the ability to use the aforementioned characters, but it would have to pay the heirs to do so. So franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe could theoretically still move forward.
Additional developments are likely to crop up with this latest legal situation. We’ll continue to keep you posted as updates arrive.
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