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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Embattled Theater Finds Friend in Stan Lee Media

(CN) - Stan Lee Media has entered the fray to help a regional theater nestled in Pennsylvania's Amish country fend off Disney's copyright claims.

"Broadway: Now and Forever" played at the 1,600-seat American Music Theatre in Lancaster, Pa., from April 16 to Oct. 12. The compendium of 40 songs from 17 Broadway musicals featured music from - and drew the ire of the purported owners of - "The Producers," "Mary Poppins," "The Lion King," "Spider-Man," "West Side Story," "Annie," "Les Miserables," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Evita," "Cats," and "The Phantom of the Opera."

The curtain has since dropped on the show, but a pair of federal copyright lawsuits that it inspired live on.

Disney is the lead plaintiff in the first complaint, filed on Sept. 24 by Wilson Brown of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization receives top billing on the second, filed Sept. 26 by M. Kelly Tillery of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

On Monday, the Colorado-based company Stan Lee Media entered the fray with a 16-page third-party complaint that claims it - and not Disney subsidiary Marvel Characters Inc. - owns the Spider-Man brand and gave the theater a "valid and legally enforceable" license for the show.

Stan Lee Media has spent the last decade failing to persuade federal courts across the country of those very ownership claims. Though Stan Lee co-founded Stan Lee Media in 1999, he quit in 2001 over a salary dispute. The company collapsed that year, and Lee's co-founer, Peter Paul, was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for manipulating its stock.

The American Music Theatre asserted a defense of "license from appropriate rightsholder" for Disney's Spider-Man claims in its 33-page answer to the complaint. The theater's other defenses for the rest of the shows include fair use, lack of stand and other defenses.

Represented by Pennsylvania-based lawyer Camille Miller, the company demands a trial by jury.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Schmehl ordered discovery on Wednesday, and scheduled the first pretrial conference for Dec. 9.

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