Stan Lee Media Inc. is asking a federal judge in California to revive its case against comicbook maven Stan Lee, in which it is seeking rights to popular characters including “Spider-Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “The Fantastic Four.”
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York rejected on Wednesday an effort by Stan Lee Media Inc.to intervene in litigation that Lee had against Marvel Enterprises over a 10% stake in TV and movie profits, in a case that was eventually settled. The appellate court ruled that Stan Lee Media Inc. was too late in seeking its claim “more than five years after final judgment.”
But Stan Lee Media Inc. has a separate action against Lee pending in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Judge Stephen Wilson had put that litigation on hold pending the appellate decision, and now that that has been made, Stan Lee Media Inc. argued in a filing on Wednesday that its case can proceed. They say they have grounds to do so because the appellate court made no decision on res judicata, or the idea that claims that have already been judged can be precluded by the courts.
The complicated, and often convoluted, litigation has gone on for years, and Lee’s attorneys have argued that the claims of Stan Lee Media Inc. have been rejected by other federal courts.
Lee was central to the predecessor company, Stan Lee Media, when it launched during the Internet bubble of the late 1990s, with ambitious plans to create a viable web destination featuring his creations. But that company tanked in 2000 after tech stocks crashed. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2001, and one of its co-founders, Peter Paul, pleaded guilty to securities violations and is serving a 10-year sentence.
Successor company Stan Lee Media Inc. has been pursuing litigation against Lee, claiming that after he had assigned character rights over to Stan Lee Media, he improperly transferred those rights to Marvel in 1998 and later assigned copyrights and trademarks to two of his companies, QED and POW! Enetertainment.
Lee has denied that he ever assigned copyright interests and characters over to Stan Lee Media, and U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty even ruled in 2010 that a “lifetime” agreement that he signed in 1998 was in violation of California labor laws.