Marvel Settles 2021 Lawsuit With Spider-Man Co-Creator Steve Ditko’s Estate

Dylan Kennedy Grey

Spider-Man and Doctor Strange on the "No Way Home" poster

Marvel Settles 2021 Lawsuit With Spider-Man Co-Creator Steve Ditko’s Estate

Following a battle for the rights to Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, and other Marvel Universe characters, the estate of prolific comic book artist Steve Ditko and Marvel have reached a legal settlement for a lawsuit that began in 2021.

Marvel and Steve Ditko’s Estate Settle Lawsuit

Black and white photo of Steve Ditko on the phone

Ditko co-created Spider-Man with Stan Lee and was the sole creator of Doctor Strange. He also made significant contributions to the character of Iron Man. Ditko began working for Atlas Comics, the precursor to Marvel, in the 1950s. He left Marvel in 1966 and worked for Charlton Comics (which he had worked with before Atlas/Marvel), as well as DC. He passed in 2018 at age 90.

Red and silver Marvel Studios logo

In 2021, the Ditko estate, represented by copyright attorney Marc Toberoff, sought termination notices on the rights of various Marvel characters. Several other artists’ families sought similar termination notices. According to copyright law, the creators of characters can reclaim a character’s rights that were sold and used by publishers after a certain amount of time has expired. Marvel filed a lawsuit to retain the full ownership rights.

Spider-Man and Doctor Strange on the "No Way Home" poster

Marvel’s counsel Daniel Petrocelli said at the time, “Any contributions Steve Ditko made to the Works were done at Marvel’s expense because Marvel paid Steve Ditko a per-page rate for his contributions, Steve Ditko made those contributions to the Works with the expectation that Marvel would pay him, and Steve Ditko did not obtain any ownership interest in or to his contributions.” (via Deadline)

Toberoff had released the following statement:

I represent Larry Lieber (Thor, Iron Man, Ant Man) , the estates of Steve Ditko (Spiderman, Dr. Strange), Don Heck (Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye), Don Rico (Black Widow), and Gene Colan (Captain Marvel, Falcon, Blade). In 2010-2014 I successfully represented the family of Jack Kirby, the co-creator of Marvel’s most famous superheroes, in a case where Marvel similarly sued Kirby’s family for exercising their rights under the Copyright Act.

Here, Marvel has done the same; but make no mistake, “artist-friendly” Disney is calling the shots.

At the core of these cases is an anachronistic and highly criticized interpretation of “work-made-for-hire” under the 1909 Copyright Act that needs to be rectified. We had tremendous support from the artistic community, the former Register of Copyrights, the former Trademark Commissioner, all the Guilds (WGA, SAG, DGA), PEN America, and 237 artists, including a dozen Pulitzer winners. The Kirby case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which showed keen interest, at which point Disney settled. At the time, I was asked whether I regretted not righting the legal injustice to creators – which I indeed did. I responded that there would be other such cases.

Now, here we are.

Most of the lawsuits were settled earlier this year, and now the final one with Ditko’s estate has been settled out of court.

The attorneys for Marvel and the Ditko estate filed jointly in Manhattan federal court earlier this week. They announced that they had, “amicably resolved their dispute.” Toberoff reaffirmed this when contacted by Entertainment Weekly:

The parties [Marvel and Ditko] reached an amicable resolution of this interesting case.

What do you think of the outcome of this case? Let us know in the comments.

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