Stan Lee Media Inc., the company founded by Stan Lee in 1998 and then abandoned by him three years later, has lost its second big decision in as many days and probably its best hope of ever being adjudicated the rightful owner of “Spider-Man” rights.
This time, the decision comes from a Pennsylvania judge who was tasked with figuring out what to do about SLMI’s somewhat innovative attempt to intervene in Disney’s lawsuit against a theatrical producer.
In September 2013, Disney lodged a complaint against American Music Theatre, which put on Broadway: Now & Forever, which featured references to The Producers, Billy Elliot, Wicked, Jersey Boys and yes, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The case took an odd turn after the lawsuit was filed — something that Disney itself probably didn’t expect — when AMT and SLMI announced a deal that gave the theatrical producer a retroactive license covering the use of Spider-Man.
SLMI did this because, in one dispute after another, previous courts had ruled that its ownership claims to Stan Lee’s creations had been previously adjudicated, and thus precluded. The company, backed by some hedge fund money, believes that it was assigned characters like X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man in 1998 by Lee after he left Marvel and had its assets raided in bankruptcy shortly before Lee returned to Marvel. However, it has had trouble convincing courts to hear the merits of its claims. For example, on Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to revive SLMI’s lawsuit against Stan Lee himself, finding the company’s arguments to be “simply implausible.”
But who knew what a Pennsylvania judge would say? This created uncertainty, and thus, some prospect that SLMI would stun the industry and be judged to actually hold rights to a billion-dollar comic book character like Spider-Man.
Disney demanded an end to SLMI’s claims, arguing they had previously been addressed, while SLMI traced all the allegedly bad decisions to a 2010 ruling in New York where the judge never gave them a shot.
Nevertheless, despite SLMI’s grievances, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Schmehl isn’t about to do SLMI any favors.
“These issues have previously been addressed in one form or another by multiple courts around the country,” writes the judge, who then goes into some of the nuances of how Stan Lee once sued Marvel over his employment agreement, how statute of limitations then came up, and how SLMI unsuccessfully attempted to substitute itself into the proceeding once Lee and Marvel settled.
All of this is Stan Lee trivia at this point because, for the umpteenth time, SLMI has lost. The company’s legal hopes now rest with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently heard oral arguments about a judge’s dismissal of a copyright lawsuit against Disney. Don’t expect much.