Stan Lee Media sues for 'Conan' rights

Stan Lee Media, the company founded by, but no longer affiliated with, comic book maestro Stan Lee, claims that ownership of the sword-wielding barbarian was illegally transferred to another company in 2002.

Simon Varsano/Lionsgate/AP
In this image released by Lionsgate, Jason Momoa portrays Conan in a scene from 'Conan the Barbarian.'

In a suit filed in the US District Court on Friday, Stan Lee Media demanded 100 percent of the proceeds from the recent "Conan the Barbarian" film, claiming that it owns the rights to the sword-wielding Cimmerian.

The company, which was founded in the late 1990s by comics legend Stan Lee, purchased the rights to Conan in 2000, shortly before filing for bankruptcy amid allegations of securities fraud. In 2002, the rights to the character were sold to the Swedish company Paradox Entertainment, which then went on to attempt to revive the character through a video game, a roleplaying game, a well-regarded comic book, and now a 3D movie from Lionsgate starring Jason Momoa.

Stan Lee Media claims that, because the company was in bankruptcy at the time, it was not legally authorized by its shareholders to transfer any of its intellectual property. The company names as a defendant its former attorney Arthur Leiberman, who allegedly signed off on the transaction, along with Paradox Entertainment and others.

This is not the first intellectual property battle for Stan Lee Media. Since 2007, the company has been engaged in a legal dispute with its founder, comic book writer and editor Stan Lee, over the rights to Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, and Spider-Man, and other superhero icons that Lee co-created while working for Marvel Comics. The company claims that it is the co-owner of these characters, and that the rights were illegally transferred to newer ventures created by Lee.

The character Conan first appeared in 1932, in a short story by sword-and-sorcery pulp writer Robert E. Howard. In the 1970s, Marvel published a few Conan titles, which revived the character's popularity, leading to the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. [Editor's note: An earlier version misnamed the publisher and the title of the Conan comic book.]

If Stan Lee Media wins the lawsuit, it shouldn't expect much in the way of proceeds from the film. "Conan the Barbarian 3D," which was financed for $90 million, has so far netted only about $10 million at the box office since its August 19 release.

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