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Disney is grappling with a lawsuit levied against it by the original creators of Marvel heroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange and more. If it loses, it will no longer possess the rights to these characters by 2023.
So, that's mega news for Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As per the report from the New York Times, attorney Marc Toberoff filed the complaint earlier this year. Toberoff is representing writer and artist Larry Lieber, who is the brother of Stan Lee and co-creator of Iron Man, Thor, and Ant-Man. The estate of Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and the heirs of Don Rico and Gene Colan followed suit in September.
Ditko is the co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, Heck is the co-creator of Black Widow and Hawkeye, Rico is another co-creator of Black Widow and Gene Colan is the co-creator of Blade, Falcon, and Carol Danvers. If you've got the sequence of upcoming films for Phase 4, you'll see that this lawsuit poses a significant problem for Disney should it succeed.
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The Copyright Revision Act of 1976 states that ownership of copyright over these fictional heroes should be handed back to creators 60 years after their creation. As such, this would give the rights to Spider-Man, Black Widow and so on to the aforementioned plaintiffs by 2022.
Disney doesn't want that. Filing countersuits to the creators claims, the company is requesting that a judge dismiss the collective lawsuit. Its argument is that the 1976 act applies to works that are created outside of work-for-hire contracts and sold to another entity.
"Marvel assigned Lieber stories to write, had the right to exercise control over Lieber's contributions and paid Lieber a per-page rate for his contributions," read Disney's complaint. "Those conditions render his contributions 'work made for hire,' to which the Copyright Act's provisions do not apply."
If the judge doesn't rule in Disney's favour, then films like Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder and others could be jeopardised. Ironheart continues Iron Man's legacy of ingenuity with Riri Williams and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania picks up where Loki left off with the introduction of Kang.