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Legendary Stan Lee-gal Fees: Disney Lawyers Shock Court’s Conscience with Grossly Excessive Fees in Stan Lee Media’s Copyright-Infringement Suit

A Colorado federal court awarded Disney half of its requested legal fees in Stan Lee Media’s copyright-infringement suit against it. U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez awarded Disney $239,941 of the “’grossly excessive’” $461,882 total requested. “’It shocks the court’s conscience that defendants would bill almost half a million dollars, or 900 hours, on a case with minimal discovery that was resolved on a motion to dismiss,’ the judge wrote.”

Stan Lee Media’s copyright-infringement suit stems from copyright ownership dating back to Marvel’s bankruptcy in 1998 when CEO Isaac Perlmutter ended a lifetime contract with Stan Lee that allegedly ended the company’s claim to his rights over his co-creations. Afterwards, Lee started Stan Lee Entertainment, later merging with Stan Lee Media and filing for bankruptcy in 2001. In 2006 Stan Lee Media surfaced from bankruptcy and began filing an array of shareholders’ lawsuits against Marvel, Stan Lee, and Disney among others, in an attempt to lay claim to Lee’s copyrights.

In September 2013, Judge Martinez granted Disney’s motion to dismiss the copyright-infringement case explaining that Stan Lee Media could not win the case even if it were allowed to amend its complaint. However, despite its claim being described as “’futile’” by Judge Martinez, Stan Lee Media argued that it was “reasonable enough to avoid having to pay Disney’s attorney fees, citing U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Raging Bull decision.” The court rejected this argument explaining that the statute of limitations had run on the 1998 agreement between Stan Lee and Stan Lee Media “and that two other courts had prohibited the company from bringing any more claims under that contract.”

Stan Lee Media has not had success in any of these suits. However, it is appealing Judge Martinez’s decision and has “also inserted itself into a copyright-infringement case involving Disney and a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, theater company, and seeks a declaratory judgment that it, and not Disney, owns Spider-Man and the other characters at issue.”

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