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Marvel sues artists and their heirs to block them from rights to Spider-Man, other heroes

The civil suits claim these characters — including Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Iron Man — were created for the company with no ownership interests for creators.
Image: Miles Morales in \"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.\"
Scene from "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse."Sony Pictures Animation

Superhero factory Marvel asked a federal court on Friday to block artists behind iconic figures such as Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, and those artists' heirs, from wresting away control of those valuable rights.

The federal civil suits from Marvel Characters Inc., filed in the Southern District of New York, claim the work of several artists and authors belong to the company and not to those original creators or their heirs.

The first two issues of the Spider-Man comic book series.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

Those artists, or their descendants, had previously filed action with the U.S. Copyright Office seeking termination notices to end Marvel's control over their characters.

In the multiple civil actions filed by Marvel, attorney Daniel Petrocelli cited the precedent of the court siding with Marvel against late, great artist Jack Kirby, who co-created "The X-Men," "Thor" and "Iron Man."

Kirby's heirs had sought to reclaim copyright to his creations, but the federal courts found that Marvel controlled rights and that the artist had crafted his those now iconic characters in a work-for-hire arrangement.

Petrocelli repeatedly cited that precedent in his filings against Lawrence Lieber, best known for writing the first appearances of Iron Man, Thor and Ant-Man; heirs of Donald Heck, who pencilled the debuts of The Avengers, Iron Man and Ant-Man; the estate of Stephen J. Ditko, the legendary artist who co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange; the wife and son of the late Don Rico, co-creator of Black Widow; and the wife and son of the late Gene Colan, the revered artist who co-created Falcon and Blade.

The artists were paid on a "per-page rate" and "did not obtain any ownership interest" for any of those contributions, according to Marvel.

Marc Toberoff, an attorney representing all the artists and their heirs, said the precedent set in the Kirby case is "anachronistic" and a "highly criticized interpretation."

Toberoff said a new review of the facts would lead to a favorable result for the artists.

Variety contributed.