'Spider-Man' weaves a legal web around SPE, Marvel

LOS ANGELES : Spiderman may have seen Sony Pictures Entertainment set new box office records last year but like "Tobey Maguire", the studio has now been "bitten" courtesy a lawsuit filed by Marvel.

The issue relates to the critical area of movie merchandising and a Reuters report indicates that the matter rests with a Los Angeles judge. A verdict is expected sometime next week.

As per the suit, the comics publisher of the super hero Marvel Enterprises wants to end its Spider-Man licensing agreement with SPE after the sequel is completed. Marvel has accused Sony of attempting to hijack the brand; claiming exclusive merchandising rights to the character; and "cross-promoting" the superhero with other Sony features in violation of their agreement. Through promotions, Marvel has alleged that Sony is trying to remove the connection one automatically makes between Spider- Man and Marvel.

SPE has stated that a jury trial where confidential information would be made available would undermine the studio's future dealings with partners. Therefore it wants the issue to be settled through arbitration away from the public domain.

The movie studio argues that Marvel is using the litigation as leverage to secure better licensing terms. Sony is anxious that the license agreement and an internal marketing document are not made public. Information such as revenue projections, advertising budgets and royalty targets from the first Spider-Man movie, would undermine its ability to negotiate merchandising agreements for the sequel.

On its part, Marvel says that it is in no way trying to hinder production of a sequel. Spiderman made $800 million worldwide. Marvel has also accused Sony of going back on its promise to use its sister companies, such as Sony Electronics and Sony's games division, to merchandise the web-slinger. The report states that Marvel's 4,700 comic characters are licensed to promote everything from snack foods to clothing and entertainment. Its Daredevil, X-Men characters were made into films by 20th Century Fox.

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