Skip to comments.Does a Supreme Court Ruling Mean Disney Will Lose 'Spider-Man' Rights?
Posted on 05/21/2014 8:34:58 PM PDT by doug from upland
Does a Supreme Court Ruling Mean Disney Will Lose 'Spider-Man' Rights?
11:58 AM PDT 5/21/2014 by Eriq Gardner
Once rejected for not suing soon enough, the company challenging Disney's hold on the character thinks it's no longer precluded from moving forward in court.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the daughter of an author to sue over rights to the Martin Scorsese film Raging Bull. The film is undoubtedly a classic, but its continued commercial prospects are limited. Unlike, say, Spider-Man and the many comic creations of Stan Lee.
Now, the owners of Stan Lee Media Inc. -- the company that the comic book genius abandoned around the time it filed for bankruptcy in 2000 -- believe that the Supreme Court's Petrella decision has just boosted their chances at ripping rights to Spider-Man and other characters from Marvel's grip.
Until now, SLMI has been legally hapless, as we've covered many times before. One judge after another has denied SLMI the opportunity to raise the argument that its assets were improperly raided during the bankruptcy process more than a decade ago.
Last year, SLMI came up with a new strategy. The same month that a Colorado judge dismissed its billion-dollar copyright infringement lawsuit against Disney, the Mouse House sued a small Pennsylvania theater company that was staging Broadway: Now & Forever, which included references to Disney-controlled properties like Mary Poppins, The Lion King and yes, Spider-Man.
Disney might not have had any idea at the time what it was in for. That Pennsylvania theater company soon worked out a deal with SLMI for Spider-Man rights, and SLMI filed an intervenor complaint (read here) against Disney to defend the validity of its license.
A core part of Disney's subsequent argument to "end once and for all SLMI's vexatious and repeatedly rejected claims of ownership over the Marvel Characters" was the legal doctrine of res judicata -- a matter already decided.
Disney traced SLMI's earliest attempt to object to the the transfer of intellectual property to a derivative action brought by SLMI shareholders in 2009 against Marvel Entertainment. That case (Abadin I) was said by Disney to have produced a decision on its merits the following year. As Disney explained, "Judge Crotty granted Marvel Entertainments motion to dismiss, holding that SLMIs claims of copyright ownership were barred by the statute of limitations and the doctrines of laches and estoppel."
To steal the explanation by one legal observer, laches is legalese for "you slept on your rights." SLMI might believe that it was robbed, but it didn't get its house in order soon enough to sue over it. And judges thereafter accepted this ... until now?
Flash forward to what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to say on Monday in the Raging Bull case: "Laches, we hold, cannot be invoked to preclude adjudication of a claim for damages brought within the three-year window," she wrote, also addressing that the window includes continued injuries from continued distribution.
SLMI now believes that the 2010 decision that rejected its attempt to reclaim Spider-Man and later was cited by other judges has become toothless for various reasons, including that the law has now been interpreted differently and this new Pennsylvania case addresses more recent conduct.
"Disneys res judicata argument relies on a March 2010 ruling from a New York district court that dismissed a copyright infringement claim as time-barred," SLMI general counsel Michael Wolk tells The Hollywood Reporter. "But two days ago the Supreme Court ruled that a copyright claim seeking relief based on conduct taking place within three years before a lawsuit is filed is not the 'same' as an older copyright claim seeking relief based on older conduct taking place more than three years ago."
Disney hasn't yet responded to our request for comment.
On May 15, attorneys for both Disney and SLMI were in court to argue whether SLMI should have the opportunity to go forward with its contention of being the real owner of Spider-Man. The oral hearing happened before the Supreme Court ruling, but now that it's come down, SLMI's lawyers have submitted a letter drawing the judge's attention to it.
The ramifications of the Supreme Court's Petrella opinion are being widely discussed among copyright practitioners -- coming up in all sorts of ways like a potential lawsuit against Led Zeppelin over "Stairway to Heaven" -- but rather surprisingly, it's a dispute that involves one of the most lucrative properties in entertainment where the Supreme Court ruling might first make its mark. That's not to say that SLMI will prevail. The hapless company, being funded with some hedge fund money, will still need to overcome an epic losing streak in court. But it's worth following.
More background. Stan Lee and other insiders wouldn’t participate in bankruptcy fraud, would they?
For full disclosure, I have a financial interest in the lawsuit. Here is a YouTube explaining the case from 6 years ago.
Wasn’t he somehow tied up with a Clinton campaign... and then got screw over?
Peter Paul was the one who got screwed.
Stan Lee deposition -— Hillary lied to the FEC.
FReepmail me to subscribe to or unsubscribe from the SCOTUS ping list.
Of course, these people don’t realize that only Disney property has recourse to copyright. Disney paid for the unconstitutional law fair and square.
Anybody know if there was a constitutional-based reason for accepting the certiorori or a constitutional basis in the opinion for the decision?
Interesting video. At the end of it, he claims to have given peter a check which he then received one back from him. Isnt that the same thing that got Dinesh Desouza (spelling) in trouble? Wasn’t he getting people to donate money then reimbursing them?
Im going to read more about this. It’s fascinating. I remember hearing about his studio going under.
I considered buying Marvel stock when it was dirt cheap following some 1990s shenanigans. I knew that the trademarked characters were worth a fortune but figured that the shareholders would get bupkiss while others would reap the many millions...
Ronald Mann’s report on Petrella:
“A big day for the Ninth Circuit. For the first time this Term, a Justice voted to affirm the Ninth Circuit! Unfortunately, only three Justices voted in favor of the Ninth Circuits decision in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, so the Ninth Circuit was still reversed.” (*snort*)
Breyer, Roberts, and Kennedy dissented, BTW, which puts Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor in the majority. (Careful. Don’t strain your neck on the doubletake.)
Ronald Perelman acquired Marvel Comics in the late 80s and in the 1990s also acquired the major comics distributor then hooked up "must order every Marvel title to get the deep discounts AND the special limited deluxe variant editions" that nearly bankrupted the entire comics industry (retail stores and everything else).
In 1998, Ronald Perelman's Revlon offered Monica Lewinsky a six figure job (in exchange for her lying under oath in the Paula Jones case?). Clintonista Vernon Jordan was on the board of directors. Funny how all that works...
The secret hero of Spider-Man (a NY Post profile of the elusive artist Steve Ditko)
New York Post ^ | July 2, 2012 | By REED TUCKER
Hillary did far worse than Dinesh and got away with four false FEC reports.
Yep, copyright needs to go back to it’s original length. The irony that Disney made it’s billions on public domain works and now fears the public domain is proof enough.
Even more telling. Take a look at the timing of when The Jungle Book's copyright expired and when Disney's Jungle Book cartoon was released.