Stan Lee’s multimedia plans from the ‘90s have come back to haunt him once again, as shareholders of Stan Lee Media, Inc. on Monday filed suit against Lee, his wife, Marvel Comics, Marvel Chairman Issac Perlmutter, and former head of Marvel Studios Avi Arad for over $750 million – one half the proceeds from Spider-Man, X-Men and Iron Man.
The suit claims that Permutter, Lee, Arad and Marvel denied the shareholders of Stan Lee Media to their rights in the ownership of 50% of the characters and properties created by Lee, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man and dozens of others. The shareholders claim that Lee transferred all of his interest in the characters he created for Marvel to Stan Lee Media in 1998.
After founding the Stan Lee Media, Inc. with Peter F. Paul in 1998 as a home for new (mostly) web-based creations, the company saw a tumultuous run in the heyday of the dot-com bubble. After fortunes turned south for Stan Lee Media, Lee himself placed the company into bankruptcy in 2001. Stan Lee Media's downfall was an example of the worst of the dot com bust, with several company officers arrested for manipulating stock prices and other crimes. The meltdown of Stan Lee Media famously (or infamously) invovled Peter F. Paul fleeing to Brazil, contributions made to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Paul's extradition and more.
The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2006 with new management and new shareholders. Since then, Lee and the new shareholders have been engaged in a number of legal battles, including Lee filing a $50 million suit against Stan Lee Media that claims the company has hijacked his name, image and goodwill, and is interfering with Lee’s plans to develop new characters and properties via his first look deals with both Disney and Virgin Comics. Stan Lee Media filed a $5 billion suit against Marvel in 2007 where it claimed co-ownership of all of Stan Lee's creations for Marvel. Marvel, in response, said that the claims of co-ownership were without merit.Lee himself sued Marvel in 2002, claiming that Marvel had embarked upon a “shameful scheme” to deprive him of monies from the film versions of characters he’d had a hand in developing. Lee's claim was made based on his 1998 contract with the company which guaranteed him the above-mentioned money. Lee and Marvel settled in 2005.
In the current suit, Stan Lee Media shareholders claim that Lee, Perlmutter, Lee’s former partner Arthur Lieberman and Arad “improperly colluded to hide and misappropriate financial interests in Lee's creations assigned to Stan Lee Media in 1998 and reaffirmed in 1999.” As such, Martin Garbus, the lawyer for Stan Lee Media, contends that the money Lee was paid should have gone to the company.Marvel, in legal papers filed in response to the suit says that it is filled with “ridiculous claims,” and is arguing that the suit is seeking claims that have been made in other cases.
Garbus states, according to an Associated Press article, that Lee’s settlement with Marvel in 2005 was fashioned in a manner that allowed the money to go directly to Lee, rather than to the company.
In earlier court papers in 2007, Lee’s lawyers have denied that he gave the company any copyright interests in the characters created during his career at Marvel.