Legal battles are never an easy subject, especially when dealing with one of the biggest pop culture entities on the planet, and we are now seeing two sides fight for the rights to some of Marvel’s most recognizable names.
The estate of the late Steve Ditko officially filed to claim back the copyright to some of Ditko’s most famous Marvel creations, including the likes of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. The copyright termination notice for Spider-Man was filed by Ditko’s heir, Patrick Ditko, in August. Under copyright law, authors or their heirs can regain rights once granted to publishers after a certain period. If this goes through, reports say that Marvel would need to give up the Spider-Man rights to Ditko by June 2023.
Recently, Disney’s Marvel brand began the process to hold on to complete control of Spidey and other characters including Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye and more. The Hollywood Reporter obtained the legal documents and noted in their report that “the suits seek declaratory relief that these blockbuster characters are ineligible for copyright termination as works made for hire.” If Disney/Marvel lose, they’ll have to share ownership of these billion-dollar characters.
In another layer to this story, Steve Ditko’s estate is not the only one looking to regain rights to their characters. Marvel writer Larry Lieber filed termination notices over creations in May. Other estates that Disney are targeting as they battle for the rights to the characters include Stan Lee, Don Rico, Don Heck, and Gene Colan.
Marc Toberoff is currently representing the heirs of these comic book creators. If his name sounds familiar to comic book fans, he once represented Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in an unsuccessful termination attempt against DC.
For the average Marvel fan, this may not affect them at all, though that viewpoint is still up for debate to some on the internet. Looking at the situation, if Marvel wins their lawsuit, things will keep going along as they are currently, while the families could leave empty-handed or with a settlement at best. If Marvel loses, there’s a chance they’d need to negotiate and potentially share profits for any future use of these characters in comics and films.