16 May 2018

Stan Lee starts $1bn brawl over his name and likeness

Comic book creator Stan Lee has gone to war against POW Entertainment, claiming that executives in the company he co-founded conspired to “steal” his name and likeness.

Lee, who is 95, is the creator of hundreds of superheroes such as Spider-Man, The Hulk, Thor and Black Panther. He filed the lawsuit at the Superior Court of the State of California yesterday, May 15.

He’s accused POW and two executives of brokering a “sham” deal to sell POW to a Chinese company and “fraudulently steal” his name, image and likeness.

POW was acquired in 2017 by Hong-Kong based Camsing International, when Lee’s “beloved wife was on her deathbed”, the lawsuit said.

Lee alleged that the current CEO of POW and a former business partner of his didn’t disclose the terms of the acquisition deal to him and that they requested he sign a non-exclusive licence with POW in connection with the creative works owned by POW for the sale.

However, according to the claim, the defendants were seeking to obtain an exclusive licence to Lee’s name, image and likeness on a worldwide basis.

The comic book creator added that he doesn’t recall anyone reading the “illegitimate document” to him and, because of his advanced macular degeneration (he was declared legally blind in 2015), could not have read it himself.

Lee explained that he would not have knowingly signed the licence and that he suspects someone induced him into signing the document by using a “bait and switch” tactic, telling Lee that the document was something else.

“Given his fame and cultural importance as an American icon and living legend, there is significant commercial interest in the use of his image, name and likeness,” said the claim.

It added that Lee has a history of agreeing to non-exclusive licences for the use of his name, image and likeness.

For example, Walt Disney, which paid $4 billion to buy Marvel in 2014, has a non-exclusive licence to use his name, image and likeness in connection with the characters Lee created for Marvel.

“In each instance in which Lee granted a non-exclusive licence, the licensee has offered to pay a fee for the use of his name, image and likeness, but under no circumstances did Lee ever sell off his personal identity, name, and likeness, which he spent 95 years building up.”

Lee is seeking compensatory and punitive damages totalling $1 billion, rescission of the illegitimate document and injunctive relief.

A spokesperson for POW told WIPR: “The allegations are completely without merit. In particular, the notion that Mr Lee did not knowingly grant POW exclusive rights to his creative works or his identity is so preposterous that we have to wonder whether Mr Lee is personally behind this lawsuit. There is no question Mr. Lee who, along with his daughter, was and remains a substantial POW shareholder, clearly understood the terms of the agreements he signed. The evidence, which includes Mr Lee’s subsequent statements and conduct, is overwhelming and we look forward to presenting it in court.”

A spokesperson for Camsing International added that the company is currently seeking legal advice on the litigation and may take appropriate legal action, if appropriate.

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More on this story

10 July 2018   Comic book creator Stan Lee has dropped a $1 billion lawsuit against his former company over claims that executives at POW Entertainment had conspired to “steal” his name and likeness.
1 October 2019   The daughter of the late comic book author Stan Lee, who created characters including Spiderman and Captain America, is suing a company she says fraudulently obtained his IP rights.