This month, the Walt Disney Company filed several federal lawsuits in New York and California to fend off a series of copyright termination notices served by five writers and illustrators claiming rights to Marvel characters and stories. Disney, which has owned Marvel Entertainment since 2009, is seeking to preserve its complete rights in well-known superhero characters including Iron Man, Thor, Spiderman, Doctor Strange, Ant Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, and Falcon. With these beloved characters, the Marvel franchise has created some of the highest-grossing action movies of all time. Avengers: Endgame, for example, generated $2.79 billion at the box office worldwide.
The five writers and illustrators, all but one of whom is deceased, worked with Marvel in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s and now attempt to “reclaim” rights in characters they allege to have helped create. To do so, they point to copyright law and argue that authors or their heirs may regain ownership of a work after a certain number of years. Some of the termination notices would reportedly take effect as soon as 2023, including one for Spiderman. Nonetheless, Disney takes the position that the work done by these writers and illustrators were works made for hire, rendering all rights Disney’s. Counsel for Disney also added that its lawsuits were filed “to confirm that the termination notices are invalid and of no legal effect.”