Spider-Man caught in legal web

Marvel sues for sole rights in superhero suit

It looks like Spider-Man will remain tied up in court for some time to come. Marvel Entertainment Group’s trustee in bankruptcy has sued MGM, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Viacom Inc., seeking an order establishing Marvel as the sole holder of rights to the superhero. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del., is the latest development in Marvel’s highly contentious bankruptcy.

Spider-Man rights have been in dispute since long before last week’s lawsuit, preventing “Titanic” helmer James Cameron from bringing the character to the screen. A Spider-Man project was in development for Cameron at Carolco, and he has said he would like it to be his next feature.

According to court papers filed by the bankruptcy trustee, several studios claim the right to produce a Spider-Man feature film through a series of agreements dating back to 1985. But according to the lawsuit, these agreements have expired and the rights have reverted to Marvel, which describes Spider-Man as the “crown jewel” in a stable of characters that include X-Men and the Incredible Hulk.

A hearing is set next month on Marvel’s proposed reorganization plan, under which it would merge with Toy Biz Inc. Marvel has a majority stake in Toy Biz, which markets toys based on Marvel’s characters, and the plan is backed by Marvel’s secured lenders.

Marvel was bought by Revlon chief Ron Perelman in the ’80s, and the company benefited from a comic book craze. But the company’s stock plummeted in the ’90s, and Perelman’s “rescue plan” led to a dispute with investor Carl Icahn, who owned 25% of the outstanding bonds. Perelman responded by filing for bankruptcy in December 1996. Late last year, Icahn and the board of directors he installed were displaced by the court and a trustee was appointed to run the company.

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