February 14, 2012 2:49am PT by Eriq Gardner
Stan Lee Media Fails to Reclaim 'Conan the Barbarian' Rights
A decade ago, Stan Lee Media Inc. declared bankruptcy. Since then, the company has been furiously fighting to reclaim rights to valuable intellectual property that the company's board of directors believes was fraudulently taken during the bankruptcy process. Next month, the company is set to appear before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to make the argument that a lower court should let continue a case questioning whether comic book genius Stan Lee validly terminated his contract with the company that bears his name.
In the meantime, SLMI has experienced another defeat. Last week, a federal judge in California tossed SLMI's attempt to reclaim ownership over rights to "Conan the Barbarian."
SLMI was founded by Lee in the late-1990s, before the company hit a rocky period and Lee returned to the House of Marvel.
Since filing for bankuptcy, SLMI has struggled to reformulate itself. Finally, in 2010, the company was able to get court approval on a new board of directors. Since then, against its founder's wishes, the company has been attempting to revive claims that it experienced a conspiracy to rob it of its assets.
This includes an ongoing lawsuit over characters such as Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four. On March 8, the 2nd Circuit is scheduled to hear SLMI's arguments that it now has standing to pursue efforts to reclaim these multi-billion dollar properties.
As SLMI waits for the showdown, the company has experienced another stinging defeat.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson dismissed SLMI's lawsuit against Conan Sales Co., Paradox Entertainment, and Lee's long-time attorney Arthur Lieberman, among others, in an action that sought to restore SLMI's rights to the "Conan the Barbarian" character and gain proceeds from exploitation of the character, including last year's film release of Conan the Barbarian 3D.
SLMI made the claim based on arguments that in early 2002, when Conan Sales Co. bought back rights to the "Conan" character, 1,800 SLMI shareholders weren't given proper notice. The company also alleged that Lieberman had made misrepresenations during the ordeal and failed to disclose conflicts. Finally, the company asserted that its interests were not properly represented during the proceedings that led to "Conan" being taken from them.
Judge Wilson has rejected these claims on various grounds, including that notice wasn't required during the bankruptcy process, and even if it was, SLMI couldn't show standing and harm. Additionally, the judge determined that SLMI hadn't shown that Lieberman provided services to the company's officers and shareholders to support allegations he misled them, and that SLMI did in fact have proper representation at the bankrputcy proceedings.
The long-running, complicated, and bi-coastal litigation over SLMI's break-up closes a chapter, but perhaps doesn't finish the book.
For instance, we hear that when Wilson ruled last week that "SLMI has not demonstrated why SLMI would have standing to sue on behalf of any such shareholders," it has been received as a possible invitation to some of the larger hedge funds who owned SLMI stock to make their own claims and pleas to reconsider.
And, of course, there's the coming 2nd Circuit appeal, which might determine whether SLMI's day in court is coming to an end once and for all or instead spark many more years of litigation concerning some of the biggest superhero characters in entertainment.