The New York Time has reported that the lawsuits are looking to invalidate copyright termination notices that have been served by these characters’ illustrators. Should Marvel lose the lawsuit, Disney would be forced to share ownership of these billion-dollar characters. The dispute first came into light when Marc Toberoff, a well-known intellectual property lawyer served Disney and Marvel Entertainment copyright terminations on behalf of five of his clients. Amongst those are Lawrence D. Lieber and his older brother, Stan Lee.
Other clients including Steve Ditok and Don Heck are also looking to reclaim the rights of famous Marvel characters like Doctor Strange, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, Falcon and Blade. The reclamation suits stem from a provision of copyright law that allows authors or their heirs to regain ownership of the products after a certain number of years.
Disney is arguing that since these works were for hire and owned by Marvel, the lawsuits are filed to ensure that the termination notices become invalid. However, Toberoff counters by stating, “At the time all these characters were created, their material was definitely not ‘work made for hire’ under the law. These guys were all freelancers or independent contractors, working piecemeal for carfare out of their basements…not ‘traditional, full-time employees.’”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, if the plaintiffs win, Disney is still expecting to hold a share of the characters. However, the studio would have to split its profits with the creators.
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