Stop me if you have heard this before, there is a lawsuit pending concerning rights to comic book characters. The estate of Stan Lee sued POW! Entertainment to regain the rights to Stan Lee's intellectual property, similar lawsuits have been filed before and were presumed settled.
There is a long a sordid history here that we have reported on numerous times of the years at this blog and as of last July, we reported that the lawsuit was finally resolved. . Here is a quick version of the beginnings of this dispute. This tale starts at a dark part in history, way before the MCU, way before the influence of Mickey Mouse, and way before anyone but us true geeks cared about comic books. In August 1998, Marvel filed for bankruptcy and Stan Lee was fired by Marvel. Stan then took any rights he had to any intellectual property that he still owned and transferred in to a company called Stan Lee Entertainment Inc. Stan brought on a group of “trusted” advisors to help run the company but it did not succeed and had to declare bankruptcy. Following bankruptcy, two of these advisors and Stan formed a new company POW! Entertainment and Stan’s rights were assigned to this new company. That is the clean side of the story. Now, let’s get into the dirty allegations.
Joan Celia Lee is the only daughter and heir of Stan Lee. She claims that Stan’s trusted advisors tricked Stan into believing that he retained his rights individually when POW! actually owned such rights. After his death Joan claims that she hired a team of forensic investigators who determined that Stan’s rights were transferred to corrupt China-based company.
Joan has sued for a declaration stating that defendants have no rights to Stan’s intellectual property, damages, and costs. This is not the first time a similar lawsuit was filed. While Stan was still alive he was involved with several litigations against POW!. But those seemed to be resolved when Stan dropped the lawsuit and stated "The whole thing has been confusing to everyone, including myself and the fans, but I am now happy to be surrounded by those who want the best for me. I am thrilled to put the lawsuit behind me, get back to business with my friends and colleagues at POW! and launch the next wave of amazing characters and stories!”
That harmony didn’t last long but this new case will. These are some very sophisticated legal issues that will be hard to prove by the plaintiff. Stan will not be able to testify about the transfers, so the defendants will look to rely only upon the writings. This will be a fun case to watch as it plays out over the next few years.