This post has been updated. See below for details.
Stan Lee Media, an Internet company that shut down more than a decade ago and has been mired in litigation ever since, has filed a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Walt Disney Co.
The complaint was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Colorado, where Stan Lee Media -- co-founded by the famous Marvel Comics writer, who is no longer an officer of the company -- is headquartered. It claims that a contract signed by Lee in 1998 assigned his rights to all of his comic book creations, including Spider-Man, the X-Men and most members of super-team Avengers, to Stan Lee Media.
“The true facts are that Stan Lee Media Inc. owns the copyrights to Stan Lee’s creations,” the complaint states. “Accordingly, Stan Lee Media Inc. is entitled to the billions of dollars of profits that have been kept by Defendant Disney.”
Specifically, the lawsuit focuses on the many successful movies based on Marvel characters released since Disney acquired the comic book company at the end of 2009, including the Marvel-produced “Iron Man 2,” “Thor” and “The Avengers,” as well as “X-Men First Class” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which were licensed to other studios.
On Oct. 15, 1998, according to documents filed with the suit, Lee signed a contract assigning the rights to all characters he had created or would create to Stan Lee Media. Just two weeks later, Lee signed a contract with Marvel assigning the same rights to the then-independent comic book company.
Stan Lee Media claims that its rights supersede Marvel’s because its contract was signed first. In addition, it claims Disney never publicly recorded Marvel’s agreement with Lee with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Four pages of the 10-page complaint are filled with descriptions of the other litigation involving Stan Lee Media. They include suits between the company, its shareholders and Lee.
A 2009 suit filed by Stan Lee Media shareholders against Marvel and Lee in New York federal court over ownership of Lee-created characters was dismissed.
The new complaint notes that Stan Lee Media’s history of litigation is “somewhat tortured” but that none of the prior rulings “limit in any sense” the new claims.
[Update, 1:23 p.m.: A Walt Disney Co. spokeswoman e-mailed the following statement in response to the lawsuit: “This lawsuit is without merit, it arises out of the same core facts and legal claims that have been rejected by three federal district court judges.]
A spokeswoman for Lee did not respond to a request for comment.