Bang! Pow! Lawyer foes square off again in Marvel copyright fight

3 minute read

A giant spider-man balloon is seen above the red carpet along a closed Hollywood Blvd. outside the TCL Chinese Theatre for the World Premiere of Marvel Studios' "Spider-man: Far From Home" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

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  • O'Melveny's Daniel Petrocelli, IP lawyer Marc Toberoff have duked it out in a decade of disputes
  • Latest case concerns rights to Iron Man, Spider-Man and Thor
  • Toberoff has built a practice representing artists, writers in copyright disputes

(Reuters) - Marvel Entertainment LLC's brewing fight over legal rights to some of Earth's mightiest heroes features a pair of attorney adversaries who've previously battled over the financial fates of Superman and Predator.

Representing Marvel, which sued comic book artist Larry Lieber and the estates of artists Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Gene Colan and Don Rico on Friday, is a team of attorneys from O'Melveny & Myers led by trial practice leader and firm vice chair Daniel Petrocelli.

The artists, who co-created Iron Man, Spider-Man and Thor, filed several notices this summer claiming to terminate their grants of copyrights to Marvel and its parent company, The Walt Disney Co.

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They're represented by Malibu, California-based Marc Toberoff, who has built a practice representing artists and other creators in copyright disputes with production companies.

"I felt that creators, particularly writers, are not given the respect or the economic rewards that they deserve," Toberoff said. "The last one to be invited to a premiere is the writer."

Century City, California-based Petrocelli and a representative for O'Melveny did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In 2010, Warner Bros Entertainment Inc hired Petrocelli to sue Toberoff and his clients, the heirs of Superman creators Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, as part of a decade-long legal fight over copyrights to the Man of Steel. Warner Bros alleged that Toberoff was trying to interfere in DC Comics Inc's relationships with his clients. A federal judge in April 2013 dismissed some of those claims and blocked Warner Bros' bid for Toberoff to pay $500,000 in attorney fees.

The Superman copyright litigation settled as part of a confidential deal reached in 2016, which Toberoff said he counts as a win.

Despite the duo's history, Toberoff said he doesn't see himself as Superman to Petrocelli's Lex Luthor, or vice versa.

"We’ve always had a friendly relationship. I respect him. Hopefully he respects me," Toberoff said. Their children were previously private school classmates, he said.

But from the perspective of their legal practices, it's "night and day," Toberoff said.

Petrocelli is a prominent leader at 700-lawyer O'Melveny, one of the country's biggest law firms. Toberoff said he only has two lawyers working for him, although he said he might have to "bulk up" for the Marvel cases. He has no interest in joining a law firm, saying he likes to work for himself.

"That independence is very important to me," he said.

He said he only works one to three cases at a time, all on a contingency fee basis. Earlier this year, he filed suit against Disney's 20th Century Fox Film Corp on behalf of two brothers who wrote the screenplay that became the Arnold Schwarzengger action film "Predator." Petrocelli is representing Disney in that dispute as well.

Petrocelli has also had a bevy of high-profile non-entertainment clients, including Alphabet Inc's Google, wireless carrier AT&T Inc and former President Donald Trump.

Read more:

Marvel sues comic book artists over rights to Iron Man, Spider-Man, others

Epic’s disclosures in sealing dispute leave Google bristling

Disney, 'Predator' writers file suits over copyright termination

Ex-Trump lawyer to defend AT&T-Time Warner merger

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.