It’s taken a long time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to get where it is today, with Kevin Feige’s initial idea for a shared mythology stemming from the fact the comic book company had sold off the rights to many of its biggest characters to various studios all over Hollywood, and he wanted to follow the template set on the printed page by having a series of movies under the same roof that were tied together as one grand, sprawling saga.
Over the last decade the likes of Ghost Rider, Blade, the Defenders, the X-Men and Fantastic Four have all come home, but a spanner could potentially be thrown in the works after the estate of legendary artist Steve Ditko filed two notices of copyright termination with Disney and Marvel; specifically pertaining to Doctor Strange and Spider-Man, as per ComicBook.
Under law, creators and their heirs have the legal right to regain ownership after a certain amount of time has passed, which allows them to “share in the later economic success of their works” and “regain the previously granted copyright or copyright rights”, which in the case of the Sorcerer Supreme and Peter Parker could eventually total billions.
Marvel will no doubt cite Ditko’s work as being produced under their roof on a contractual basis, which would give them the permanent copyright and shut the family out completely. The claim cites the origin stories of both superheroes as subjects of the termination, but that would additionally extend to names such as the Ancient One, Wong, Aunt May and Uncle Ben, all famed parts of the Doctor Strange and Spider-Man lore.
As we’ve seen with Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart that inspired Hellraiser, Friday the 13th writer Victor Miller and Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel’s clan, the claimants can often emerge victorious. Marvel previously dismissed similar action from Jack Kirby’s family that was settled out of court, so we’ll just have to wait and see how it pans out in regards to Ditko’s Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.