Was Marvel in danger of losing the rights to Spider-Man and Doctor Strange? 2023 legal battle, explained

Was Marvel in danger of losing the rights to Spider-Man and Doctor Strange? 2023 legal battle, explained

In the webslinger’s last movie outing, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange performs a spell that essentially wipes Peter Parker from the face of the Marvel universe. It turns out we just came close to something similar happening in the real-world, thanks to a bitter legal battle.

On Dec. 8, 2023, The Hollywood Reporter shared that Marvel Entertainment attorneys had informed the U.S. court system that an “amicable settlement” had been reached with the estate of comic book creator Steve Ditko that means a fierce fight for ownership over the characters of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, which has been waged since 2021, has finally come to an end.

But, wait, what’s this? Was Marvel really in danger of losing the rights to two of its most popular super-people? Let’s do our best impression of a Daily Bugle reporter and dig into the facts of this strange case…

Marvel was at risk of losing all six of the MCU’s founding Avengers (and many more)

Image via Marvel Studios

In September 2021, the families of many of Marvel’s most celebrated creators joined forces in an attempt to regain the rights to the characters invented by their loved ones. The estates of such writers and artists as Gene Colan, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and Don Rico stuck Marvel with a series of copyright termination notices regarding such titles as Amazing FantasyThe AvengersCaptain AmericaDaredevilIron ManJourney Into MysteryMarvel Super-HeroesStrange TalesTales to AstonishTales of Suspense, and Tomb of Dracula.

Now, in addition to barring Marvel usage of art, plotlines, and characters from these particular comic books, the notices also prohibited Marvel from utilizing “any character, story element, or indicia reasonably associated with the Works.” Given that these are among the most influential titles in Marvel’s library, this meant that a whole host of the most beloved characters in the franchise would be yanked from Marvel’s hands — such as Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Scarlet Witch.

Of course, Marvel responded just as you would expect and hit the creators’ estates with a series of lawsuits. These affairs dragged on until June 2023 when all of them were settled. All of them, that is, except for one; the battle with Steve Ditko’s estate. Ditko is undoubtedly one of the most hallowed of all Marvel creatives, with his many contributions to the mythos including co-creating Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Obviously, Marvel wasn’t going to let these two mondo money-makers go, so it’s no surprise that an agreement has now been reached with Ditko’s estate. THR noted “a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice [will] be filed in the coming weeks,” which essentially means the case cannot be reopened.

TL;DR? If Marvel had rolled over then, yes, it may have lost the rights to Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and most of the Avengers’ roster. As it is, a big corporation wins again over the loved ones of hard-working, underpaid creators. Um, yay?

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