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Marvel sues Sony over 'Spider-Man'

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HOLLYWOOD, California (Variety) -- Marvel Enterprises set the gears in motion Tuesday to sue Sony Pictures Entertainment over the Spider-Man character. Marvel asked that the filing be sealed from public view under the terms of a contractual provision.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Marvel said the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court involves its Spider-Man licensing agreement with Sony, whose Columbia Pictures division released last year's blockbuster film based on Marvel's web-slinging comic book hero.

The release goes on to say that the suit is not an attempt to stop production of the "Spider-Man" sequel slated for 2004 or to alter any of the merchandising or licensing deals that are in place.

Marvel's release cites contractual provisions as the reason for filing the suit under seal. In such a filing, there is no public record of the lawsuit being filed or the contents of the suit.

Filing under seal for a least a brief period -- 30 to 60 days -- in not unusual. California law, however, contains a strong presumption that court files are public, and filings under seal can be challenged.

Technically, Marvel filed a motion to file its complaint under seal; when the motion is heard, the public has an opportunity to challenge the sealing.

The stated purpose of Marvel's release is to inform investors that it does not foresee any negative impact from the litigation. Without the release, there would be no public record of the litigation.

Litigation is a way of life for Spider-Man. Sony grabbed the rights to the superhero in 1999 at the culmination of a six-year litigation.

Marvel initially licensed Spider-Man to Carolco and James Cameron wrote a treatment. After Carolco's bankruptcy, Sony, Viacom and MGM all claimed they owned a piece of Spider-Man. After a loss at trial by Viacom and a settlement with MGM, Sony made a deal with Marvel and emerged the winner of the Spider-Man wars.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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