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Stan Lee’s daughter J.C. is picking up an intellectual property battle started near the end of her father’s life, while broadening its horizons to examine nearly two decades of dealmaking for the comic book legend. On Thursday, as the trustee for the Lee Family Survivor’s Trust, she filed suit in California federal court against POW! Entertainment.
The co-creator of Spider-Man and other Avengers characters died last November at the age of 95.
Before Stan Lee passed, he had brought a $1 billion suit against POW. That complaint detailed Lee’s deteriorating medical condition and alleged that POW executives took advantage by either inducing him to sign documents under fraudulent pretenses or forging his signature. The suit sought to reclaim name and likeness rights, while also objecting to the transfer of assets to Hong Kong-based Camsing International.
That lawsuit was dropped, and a press release conveyed the news along with an alleged statement from Lee, who was attributed as saying, “The whole thing has been confusing to everyone, including myself and the fans, but I am now happy to be surrounded by those who want the best for me. I am thrilled to put the lawsuit behind me, get back to business with my friends and colleagues at POW! and launch the next wave of amazing characters and stories!”
The latest lawsuit revives the battle but also takes a trip back to the 1990s when he was fired from Marvel after the now-Disney-owned division filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Back then, Lee took his rights and set up a namesake company. Lee hoped to ride the dot-com boom before a financial collapse intervened. Eventually, Lee would make amends with Marvel, but not before co-establishing POW as the company that would possess his intellectual property.
“By this lawsuit, Stan Lee’s heir and Estate seek to perform the covenant Stan Lee made with his namesake company and remedy the wrongs inflicted by trusted business associates over the last two decades,” states the complaint. “It is intended to restore the rights he assigned to the namesake company he founded when he was liberated from a 60-year career with Marvel Comics, the comic book company he founded and creatively directed to become the preeminent Superhero entertainment company in the world.”
The suit aims for nothing less than a rewriting of Lee’s story, with examination of what happened in the years between 2001 and 2017 where some of Lee’s partners including Gill Champion and Arthur Lieberman allegedly “misled” him into believing he should reassign rights “on no less than 6 occasions.”
“When Stan Lee died in November 2017, his daughter, as his only heir and Trustee of his Estate, gathered a forensic team of lawyers and accountants to investigate the facts surrounding the actions of Stan Lee’s supposed partners with whom Lee had stopped communicating during the last year of his life,” continues the complaint. “In so doing, it was learned the extent to which the rights to Stan Lee’s intellectual property had been looted, muddied and entangled by POW! and a range of bad actors enabled by POW!.
The litigation portends more wrangling over what is due to Stan Lee’s Estate after his death. Disney and Marvel play a limited role in this particular complaint, but it’s possible there could be more to come.
In the meantime, the action against POW seeks declaratory relief as to intellectual property ownership as well as rights to Lee’s name and likeness. The defendants are also accused of cybersquatting domain names including therealstanlee.com and stanleepresents.com.
JC Lee is represented by attorney Jonathan Freund.
A spokesperson for POW! Entertainment, stated, “It is truly unfortunate that Stan Lee’s name has to be involved in these continued frivolous actions which are truly nothing more than family drama… We are more than confident that this case will be promptly disposed of by the courts.”
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