On Tuesday Variety reported on the contents of the suit and countersuit between Marvel and Sony, the details of which were released by court order on Monday (as a result of a suit by Variety and the Los Angeles Daily Journal to make the documents public, see 'Sony Loses fight To Keep Marvel Suit Secret'). The report detailed both the claims in Marvel's original complaint and in Sony's countersuit, which was filed on Monday. The relationship began when Sony paid Marvel $10 million in 1999 for certain movie and TV rights to Spider-Man.
One key area of dispute is based on the distinction between movie-related Spider-Man merchandise and 'classic' Spider-Man merchandise. In the licensing agreement, the revenues from movie Spider-Man merchandise are to be split 50/50, while revenues from classic Spider-Man merchandise are split 50/50 after a baseline level of sales, presumably based on Marvel's sales in the pre-movie period, is exceeded. Marvel claims that Sony attempted to impose a moratorium on classic Spider-Man merchandising, and that Sony was telling third parties that it had all Spider-merchandising rights, not just on movie-related products.
In its counter-suit, Sony argues that blackout periods for classic merchandise are part of the agreement, and that Marvel, because of its financial incentive to do so, was favoring classic Spider-Man merchandising and was using inappropriate accounting methods to account for its Spider-Man sales. Sony's withholding of $1.5 million in box office revenues as an offset against the disputed merchandise revenues was what prompted Marvel to sue in the first place.
Electronic game revenues were also a subject of contention, with Marvel arguing that Sony had promised to use Sony Electronics to market electronic games based on Spider-Man, and that Sony had told Marvel it could get $5-$7 million in game royalties. Marvel says that Sony only offered $500,000 for the electronic game rights, and that it then took a less favorable deal with Activision and was prevented by Sony from taking a better deal from Vivendi Universal Games. Sony argued that it was never obligated to use Sony Electronics to market the character.
Even if this trial goes to a hearing before a private judge instead of a jury, as Sony wants, the events will still be public, so unless the dispute is settled, we will be able to follow the proceedings based on the public record, thanks to the lawsuit by the two publications.