DENVER (CN) - Stan Lee Media claims in court that Walt Disney Co. earned billions of dollars from films based on characters created by "comic book genius" Stan Lee.
Stan Lee Media claims that a 1998 agreement with Lee gave it the rights to Spider Man, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, and other Marvel Comics superheroes.
According to the 10-page federal complaint, weeks after Lee signed the agreement with Stan Lee Media, he "oddly" signed another contract giving Marvel Enterprises the copyrights to his roster of heroes and villains.
But Stan Lee Media claims: Neither Marvel, nor Disney as Marvel's successor-in-interest as of December 31, 2009, has ever publicly recorded the Marvel Agreement with the United States Copyright Office.
"Defendant Disney claims it has rights to the Characters by reason of the Marvel Agreement. Since no such rights were ever transferred pursuant to Exhibit C, Disney has no such rights."
Therefore, Stan Lee Media claims, Disney owes it billions of dollars.
The complaint states: "Spider Man, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and most of The Avengers are among the best known comic book characters of all time and all were created by the comic book genius Stan Lee. Motion pictures starring these characters released within the past three (3) years have generated box office receipts in excess of $3 billion. Defendant The Walt Disney Company has represented to the public that it, in fact, owns the copyright to these characters as well as to hundreds of other characters created by Stan Lee. Those representations made to the public by The Walt Disney Company are false. The true
facts are that Stan Lee Media, Inc. owns the copyrights to Stan Lee's creations. Accordingly, plaintiff Stan Lee Media, Inc. is entitled to the billions of dollars of profits that have been kept by Defendant Disney."
Disney bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for about $4 billion.
The new complaint in Denver is the latest shot in a long-running battle between Stan Lee, Stan Lee Media and Marvel.
Lee and Stan Lee Media parted ways in 2001, unhappily, and Stan Lee Media has spent the better part of a decade navigating bankruptcy court and a protracted corporate governance dispute.
The new complaint describes the "tortured" litigation between the three parties in the past 10 years.
Stan Lee Media claimed in 2009 that Marvel and Lee owed it $750 million. That lawsuit, in Manhattan Federal Court, cited many of the same copyright infringement allegations made in the new complaint in Denver.
A federal judge tossed that lawsuit and a subsequent appeal, ruling that too much time had passed.
"Lee has been using his own characters since at least 1999," U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty ruled, as Courthouse News reported. "Plaintiffs cannot wait a decade to enforce their rights."
In a second federal lawsuit in Manhattan in 2011, Stan Lee Media could not persuade U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet to toss out a 2005 settlement between Marvel and Lee. Sweetcalled it "an improper attempt to circumvent Judge Crotty's August 10, 2010 decision."
Sweet's ruling was confirmed on appeal in March this year.
In the new complaint, however, Stan Lee Media claims that because the 2nd Circuit "chose not to affirm the res judicata rulings" delivered by Judge Crotty in 2009, "Judge Crotty's time-bar rulings are null and void."
Stan Lee Media claims that its new complaint is different, in that it seeks damages for copyright "exploitations" that occurred over the past three years, and that Disney is the sole defendant.
"Even assuming that each of the various prior rulings is effective (and some are
not), none of those rulings limit in any sense plaintiff's claims herein," the complaint states.
Stan Lee Media claims Disney reported more than $3.5 million in box office returns from "Iron Man 2," "Thor," "X-Men: First Class," "Marvel's The Avengers" and "The Amazing Spider Man." It claims Disney made more than $2 billion in profits from those flicks, and that it deserves its share.
Stan Lee Media is represented by John McDermott with Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck of Denver.