The GeeksverseNEWS | Warner Bros. wins Superman dispute vs. Siegel estate

NEWS | Warner Bros. wins Superman dispute vs. Siegel estate
Published on Saturday, January 12, 2013 by
9th US Circuit of Appeals rules in favor of Warner Bros. in the long-running dispute with Jerry Siegel’s heirs over commercial control of the Superman property.
Is the never-ending legal battle over Superman's commercial rights finally over?

Is the never-ending legal battle over Superman’s commercial rights finally over?

Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th US Circuit of Appeals ruled that a 2001 oral agreement between Warner Bros. and the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel granting the former full commercial control of the Superman property is legally binding. Reinhardt’s ruling effectively does away with a previous 2008 decision by Judge Larson of the US District Court for the Central District of California awarding Siegel’s estate an unspecified share of all Superman-generated earnings compiled by Warner Bros. since 1999, when Siegel’s wife and daughter attempted to reclaim his share of the Superman copyright by filing for a termination of copyright notice.

The ruling could not have come at a more fortuitous time for Warner Bros., with a new Superman film entitled Man of Steel due out in theaters on 14 June.

However, Siegel counsel Marc Toberoff, who also represents the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, has stated that the Shuster family plans to contest a separate 2012 decision awarding Warner Bros. the rights to the Superman property.

Warner Bros. has made over $500 million from five Superman films and billions more from Superman comics, television shows, toys, games, and other merchandise and media, while the Siegel and Shuster families have received from Warner Bros. in excess of $4 million in various payments since 1978.

To review the legal issues surrounding the ownership of the Superman property, proceed here.

2 Responses
    • The legal battles are always frustrating. The biggest lawyers always seem to win no matter what. In this case, given the nature of that generation of deals, I’ve always figured Siegel and Shuster probably signed away their creation. I don’t think the families will win. Now that Siegel’s family has lost I don’t think Shuster’s family will fare much better.

      • I don’t think there’s any legal question that Siegel and Shuster did sign away their rights to Superman when they originally agreed to sell him back in the late 1930s to National Allied Publications (DC Comics’ predecessor) and when they settled in a 1973 case against DC Comics.

        What was under dispute in this most recent bout of legal sparring was whether the current extension of DC’s copyright claims to the character (the extension being granted in 1998) was invalidated by the Siegel estate’s 1999 filing of a termination of copyright notice (certain provisions in copyright law as well as prior arguments made in their previous cases gave Siegel and his estate a five-year window between 1994 and 1999 to reclaim their rights to Superman). The US District Court for the Central District of California thought so in 2008, but this most recent ruling, based on evidence that Siegel’s heirs apparently worked out an informal agreement with DC in 2001 giving up their claim in exchange for compensation, undoes that decision.

        There does seem to be an air of finality in this most recent ruling, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the parties end up back in court and we find ouselves talking about this again at some point in the near future—the whole affair is messy, and I’m sure lawyers on both sides are already gearing up for the next round of courtroom combat.

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