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Stan Lee Media Files Billion-Dollar Disney Lawsuit Over Marvel Characters

The company formerly affiliated with Lee has tried for years to win back lucrative rights to iconic characters.

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10:10 PM PDT 10/9/2012 by Eriq Gardner

Despite years of court losses, the resilient company that was founded by Stan Lee in the late 1990s is still attempting to convince the world that a decade ago, it was robbed of many of valuable franchises, including Fantastic Four, X-Men and Spider-Man.

The latest move involves a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against Disney for alleged copyright infringement. In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, SLMI alleges that it has been assigned the rights to these characters, that Lee didn’t properly assign the works to Marvel and that Disney has never recorded its agreement with Marvel with the U.S. Copyright Office. Essentially, SLMI says that the Disney-Marvel merger was a fantasy as large as one of Lee’s creations.

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Just one problem — res judicata.

Yes, we’ve seen this argument before. In SLMI’s latest complaint in Colorado federal court, the company admits a “tortured history of litigation” and goes through the many legal proceedings in Colorado, in New York and in California.

The full details of what happened are terribly complicated, but essentially, when SLMI went into bankruptcy a decade ago, its assets were raided, and SLMI shareholders have been attacking the perceived vultures ever since.

These efforts eventually culminated in a decision on August 23 by California federal judgeStephen Wilson.

In the ruling, Judge Wilson addressed why he wouldn’t allow SLMI to go forward with a lawsuit against Stan Lee —  res judicata, which the judge defined as barring lawsuits based on “any claims that were raised or could have been raised in a prior action.”

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Judge Wilson found that the lawsuit against Lee entailed an issue  — whether Lee transferred to Marvel the same IP rights previously assigned to SLMI — that was previously addressed in a prior case. And so, the judge dismissed it.

The ruling is now on appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.

Meanwhile, SLMI is now attacking Disney and will likely face that very same res judicataissue.

So why does SLMI believe this case has a shot?

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According to the lawsuit, “SLMI is entitled to proceed with this copyright infringement lawsuit against Disney, based upon Disney’s independently actionable conduct which occurred after April 2009, regardless of the outcome of SLMI’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit in the 2007 Case.”

We’ll see if a judge buys that, but SLMI’s track record with judges isn’t so mighty.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner


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