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Comic superhero stable Marvel Enterprises Inc. has sued The Walt Disney Co., claiming the entertainment giant never had legal rights to make animated television programs based on comic book characters such as “Spider-Man” and “X-Men.” In the suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Marvel accuses Disney of copyright infringement, fraud and unfair competition stemming from Disney’s distribution of animated episodes of Marvel characters. “Disney does not have the right to distribute and profit from Marvel’s animated programming,” the suit states. “Disney’s continued telecasts over the ABC Family Channel and its other acts of exploitation infringe Marvel’s copyrights.” New York-based Marvel said it entered into exclusive licensing agreements with companies that were eventually acquired by Disney, but never directly extended those rights to create or distribute programs based on Marvel characters to Disney. Under copyright law, Disney needed to obtain written consent from Marvel before taking over rights originally licensed to the other companies, the suit contends. The licensing agreements at issue in the lawsuit were made before Disney acquired Fox Family Worldwide in 2001. Made-for-television episodes of “Spider-Man,” “X-Men” and “The Incredible Hulk” were made in the late 1990s. “Disney never had the rights (to) the properties in the first place and we’re claiming our rights back,” Marvel attorney Carole Handler said Tuesday. In the lawsuit, Marvel also reiterates charges made in a separate suit filed in July that Disney owes it millions of dollars in royalties stemming from the animated superhero series. Marvel is seeking an unspecified amount of money for copyright infringement and other compensatory and punitive damages. Disney, based in Burbank, Calif., did not return calls for comment Tuesday. In the July case, Marvel sued Disney in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeking nearly $55 million in unpaid royalties and other damages. Disney responded to that lawsuit by asking the court to order arbitration. A decision is pending, Handler said. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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