How Disney's Lawsuit Could Affect Marvel Comics

Disney is pursuing a lawsuit in order to retain the rights to characters like Spider-Man and Thor – but Marvel Comics would be safe even if they lost.

Disney is going to the courts to retain the rights to a range of Marvel characters – and the outcome of this could have an impact on the comics as well. 2021 seems to be turning into the year of lawsuits for Disney, with Scarlett Johansson suing over the House of Mouse’s decision to opt for a hybrid release of Black Widow, followed by an even more complicated lawsuit involving countless Marvel heroes. Under the Copyright Revision Act of 1976, character rights return to their creators 60 years after their creation. The clock is ticking on the likes of Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Black Widow, and Hawkeye, and the various estates have filed termination notices. Disney is going to court challenging this, for understandable reasons.

Disney is arguing the termination notices are invalid because the characters were created under the “work for hire” model, an argument that has won in similar cases in the past. Should this decision go the other way, though, it won’t mean Disney will lose the licenses to their most famous superheroes; rather, they would enter into a co-ownership, and they’d need to pay out profits to the estates. It’s worth noting this would only affect the United States, because copyright laws vary internationally.

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