Disney has filed lawsuits against the heirs of famous comic book writers and artists such as Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Don Rico and Gene Colan.
These lawsuits are in response to Ditko’s estate filing a notice of termination with regards to Spider-Man. However, they could also lose the copyrights to many of their most famous characters like Iron Man, Black Widow, Doctor Strange and more.
Under copyright law in the United States, the original owners or their heirs can terminate copyright from the publisher after a certain number of years. Although Marvel would still be allowed to use these characters, they would have to share ownership and profits from these characters with the heirs.
Disney argues that these characters were made as work for hire meaning they are not eligible for termination.
Though this is not the first time Disney has had to fight for the rights to one of their heroes.
Although Disney holds the rights to many major film industry franchises like Marvel and Star Wars, the one thing they have never been able to get their hands on is Spider-Man. They hold the rights to Spider-Man’s merchandise, but the film rights for Spider-Man have belonged to Sony since 1999.
Disney and Sony came to an agreement over their Spider-Man debacle in 2015. Disney paid and produced the Spider-Man movies and the movies he appeared in but Sony had final say in movies where Spider-Man is the main character.
When “Spider-Man: Far from Home” came out in 2019, Disney tried to negotiate with Sony again to buy Spider-Man. The issue caused an uproar within the Marvel community after talks of Spider-Man not being able to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe anymore came to light. This pushed Disney and Sony into a corner and ended with the 2019 agreement, which ended almost the same as the 2015 agreement with a few minor tweaks.
Only time will tell whether these heirs can follow in Sony’s footsteps or if Disney will keep these superheroes all to itself.