I wonder if Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man break legs to collect money. We have told you a lot about a bankrupt company’s repeated attempts to win legal rights to Marvel’s superheros but now Disney wants to collect some of its fees from the mysterious people funding these litigations. Disney was granted permission to serve a subpoena to find out details on who is paying the legal fees for Stan Lee Media’s plethora of lawsuits.
At least six times courts have ruled that Stan Lee Media (“SLM”) does not own rights to Spider-Man and other Marvel characters, Disney does. To sum up the dispute, SLM (no longer owned by or affiliated with Stan Lee but still bearing his name) claims that in 1998, Marvel, transferred rights to Spider-Man and other Marvel characters before such rights were transferred to Disney. SLM never asserted rights to the characters until it started filing lawsuits in 2007 and never even announced it had rights to the characters while Marvel continued to distribute comic books and license out the characters for movies. Court after court has tossed SLM’s claims out with last week’s comics but the lawsuits keep coming.
After defeating these cases, Disney has recently been awarded judgments over $450,000 covering costs and fees against SLM. One problem, its hard to collect money from a bankrupt company, but the people funding the litigations are not bankrupt. During a deposition the registered agent for SLM refused to produce any documents related to funding of the litigation by a third-party but did acknowledge that the case is being funding by another company TAP-SLMI, LLC; TAP has not other functions other than to fund these litigations.
So instead of hiring Sherlock Homeboy to do some investigating, Disney sought to issue a subpoena to TAP for documents but SLM immediately opposed the attempt. On Monday, a Judge held that these documents should be produced identifying TAP’s investors and any assets of TAP. The court held that a company that funds vexatious litigation can be deemed a party for purposes of paying costs and attorneys’ fees. Meaning that since these lawsuits are frivolous, the third-party funding SLM, TAP, can be liable to pay Marvel’s fees.
The judge ordered that the documents be produced and the company appear for a deposition within 21 days. Disney will use this information to try to collect some of the $450,000 it is owed.