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Warner Bros. may get access to sensitive papers in Superman battle

Action Comics #1

A ruling by a federal magistrate judge could open the door for Warner Bros. to gain access to confidential documents the studio insists support its claims against the attorney representing the heirs of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their fight for the rights to Superman.

Variety reports that U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zarefsky ruled Wednesday that the documents, stolen from the office of attorney Marc Toberoff and delivered anonymously to Warner Bros. in December 2008, were not protected by attorney-client privilege. However, he postponed a final ruling until Toberoff and his attorneys can seek a decision from U.S. District Judge Judge Otis Wright.

At the time of the theft, a judge ruled that the documents were privileged, and ordered the studio to turn them over to a court officer within 24 hours. However, an attached seven-page cover letter called the “Superman-Marc Toberoff Timeline” was not privileged, and became the basis for Warner Bros.’ 2010 lawsuit against the attorney. The complaint alleges that Toberoff “orchestrated a web of collusive agreements” with the Siegel and Shuster heirs, leading them to reject “mutually beneficial” longtime deals with DC Comics and seek to recapture the Superman copyright. In addition, the studio claims Toberoff schemed to secure for himself “a majority and controlling financial stake” in the Superman rights.

Just last month Zarefsky rejected the studio’s argument that the documents, which purportedly contain a formula for how the two estates and Toberoff would divide the Superman assets, violate the U.S. Copyright Act and, therefore, cannot be isolated from discovery. But this week he determined that Toberoff actually waived privilege when he turned over the documents last year in response to a grand jury subpoena issued after Toberoff met with the U.S. Attorney’s office to discuss an investigation of the theft.

The decision is only the latest twist in Warner Bros.’ increasingly bitter legal battle to hold onto Superman following a 2008 ruling that Siegel’s widow Joanne Siegel and daughter Laura Siegel Larson had successfully recaptured half of the original copyright to the Man of Steel under the provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act. The window will open in 2013 for Shuster’s estate to do the same.

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Comments

22 Comments

Hu? If the documents were delivered anonymously to WBs. then why don’t they have them now? There seems to be some backstory missing. Or is it that they will be allowed to admit these documents as evidence?

Pollux Dioscuros

May 26, 2011 at 10:48 am

I wonder the same as RunnerX13. Who has these papers?

RunnerX13, the studio was ordered at the time to turn over the documents, with the exception of a seven-page cover letter. I’ve clarified that in the article. Thanks.

Thanks, Kevin!

I have to say, being a Superman fan, I think that it would be disappointing,terrible and unjust. If after all this time the Superman copyright ended up being owned by a bunch of lawyers, that’s not fair !!! On the other hand I have no problem if the Siegel & Shuster estates were to be awarded the copyright. But isn’t it true that Joe Shuster had no kids, therefore no heirs ? Or do presumably nephews,nieces and/or cousins count in a case like this ?

The Siegel heirs are sullying the very memory and creation of their Grandfather. They would be better off accomplishing something of their own merit instead of trying to financially gain any leverage from DC which has taken care of the Superman character for decades, and who in the past have treated the Siegels very well. The Siegels should be ashamed of themselves in what they are doing to the creation (which they had absolutely no part of) of their granfather.

“But isn’t it true that Joe Shuster had no kids, therefore no heirs.”

Shuster’s nephew Mark Peary is executor of his estate.

Marc, Siegel’s estate — which, with the death of his wife Joanne, is now overseen by daughter Laura Siegel Larson — isn’t sullying anything. The family is simply doing what the 1976 Copyright Act stipulates they may do. In fact, they’ve already done it, per the 2008 ruling. Everything else is the messy job of sorting out the details.

No, Siegel’s heirs didn’t have anything to do with the creation of the Man of Steel (but then again, neither did the Warner Bros. executives and shareholders who enjoy the fruits of the property). However, U.S. law says — and a federal judge agreed — that they has an opportunity to benefit from that creation for what remains of the life of the copyright. There’s nothing shameful about that.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 26, 2011 at 8:12 pm

The Siegel heirs are sullying the very memory and creation of their Grandfather

What?
By doing exactly what he would have done?
Also, this was driven very recently by his widow, until her death, and I believe it’s being headed up by his daughter.

They would be better off accomplishing something of their own merit instead of trying to financially gain any leverage from DC which has taken care of the Superman character for decades, and who in the past have treated the Siegels very well.

WHAT?
The character is legally theirs – how is them wanting to take ownership of their fathers creation, different from WB profiting off of Siegels creation?
You’ve no problem with current Exec’s at WB having inherited the character from previous exec’s – so what’s the issue with the family of his creator inheriting Supermans rights off of their father?
Is it shameful every time somebody inherits something off of a deceased relative?

As for taking good care of the Siegels – they did once they were shamed into it after the release of the film.
And then, they paid the Siegels and Shusters thousands, whilst the character brings in Billions.

The Siegels should be ashamed of themselves in what they are doing to the creation (which they had absolutely no part of) of their granfather.

You should be ashamed of slagging off the children of Supermans creator for having the hide to claim on their LEGAL RIGHTS.
in 2008, the court ruled in the Siegels favour – all court action now is from WB trying to get out of this court ruling.

Maybe you need to read some Superman comics – it’s pretty clear he’d come down on the families side.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 26, 2011 at 8:15 pm

I have to say, being a Superman fan, I think that it would be disappointing,terrible and unjust. If after all this time the Superman copyright ended up being owned by a bunch of lawyers, that’s not fair !!!

So much better that it be owned by a corporation who got out of a court ruling by suing the family of the creators lawyer?

after all this time the Superman copyright ended up being owned by a bunch of lawyers, that’s not fair !!! On the other hand I have no problem if the Siegel & Shuster estates were to be awarded the copyright.

They have been awarded it – WB doesn’t want to pay them the amounts owed, or part with the rights, so they are suing the families lawyer.

Here we go again a parasite lawyer trying to take advantage of simpletons who deserve nothing ,nothing I say and I hope it blows up in their faces

FunkyGreenJerusalem
…. how would ANYONE benefit IF the SUPERMAN property is tied up in court for a few yrs and NO ONE was allowed to use to property until it was cleared up.

BOTTOM LINE: the United States Court system is a complete corrupt WASTE OF TIME.
it takes yeeeeeears for anything to be resolved
Mean while it costs endless amounts of heartache and time to do ANYTHING in the courts.

people who sue are wasting their time. —-LET IT GO.
DC/WB screwed over the creators decades ago. Accept it. move on.

Screw the grand kids and some 90 yrold widow. Just cause great grand dad had an idea 80 yrs ago that OTHERS have since then refined and truly defined… doesnt mean they moraly deserve a penny.
You get what you earn. And these people didnt earn a dime.

THe original creators deserved $ but they are DEAD now. its over. DC won.

knightphoenix2

May 27, 2011 at 4:40 am

People seem to be ignoring the most salient point here – those papers were *stolen* from the lawyer’s office. Which means that there is a good possibility that Warner Brothers did this in order to discredit the lawyer themselves, which would on top of all the other evil things they did.

Which further dishonors *them*.

If you’re so desperate to have Superman stories that you willingly turn a blind eye towards the wrongs that Warner Brothers did to the creators of Superman, and their families – you don’t deserve to have Superman stories anymore.

Period.

I don’t believe Warner Bros. orchestrated the theft of those documents; by all indications, it was a former Toberoff employee.

“No, Siegel’s daughter didn’t have anything to do with the creation of the Man of Steel (but then again, neither did the Warner Bros. executives and shareholders who enjoy the fruits of the property). ”

The entire reason that there’s a lawsuit is because of what DC/WBs have done with the character for the past 70s. If DC stopped printing and marketing Superman after Segal and Shuster, there would be zero dollars to be shared.

I’m not sure I understand your point, RunnerX13. If DC had stopped printing and marketing Superman five decades ago, DC would be a radically different company today.

But anyway, the reason for the legal battle is Congress’ extension of the duration of copyright.

knightphoenix2

May 27, 2011 at 9:41 am

@Kevin Melrose @ 5:14 AM (PST)

(Quote) I don’t believe Warner Bros. orchestrated the theft of those documents; by all indications, it was a former Toberoff employee. (End Quote)

Given that, Warner Brothers *still* shouldn’t used the stolen documents period.

At this point, I’m not sure the theft of the documents is even pertinent (in this case, anyway). Now that the existence of the documents is known, Warner Bros. is merely arguing that they should be subject to the rules of discovery.

A few things not being mentioned: As of the current ruling, the “rights” to both parties would be essentially worthless unless they worked together. The Creators’ estate essentially owns some names and a bit of backstory introduced within Superman’s first couple of appearances. DC, who can claim credit for further developing the vast majority of the character, owns everything else, including the S-Shield and everything else that’s relevant within the current mythology. Now, while it would seem that DC has the upper hand (which they do when you’re looking purely at numbers), It’s not like they’re going to stop calling their character “Superman” and/or “Clark Kent” and “Lois Lane”. They aren’t going to retcon “Krypton” from the mythology.

By securing the rights, the family isn’t shutting down Superman as a character, they’re ensuring they get their share of the pie by making sure DC has no choice but to work with them.

@Kevin,

Can you explain…even if everything they say is true, how are they in any position to complain about what kind of deals the estates made with whom?.That’s their own prerogative isn’t it?.

And they don’t seem to be complaining.

Sick and Tired

May 28, 2011 at 8:03 am

I am sick and tired of people going after the families/estates of comic book creators-
Do you think the children of other rich families, do not deserve to inherit money/creations?
By your rational children of the Rockefellers deserve nothing?

Did you ever think why no cool characters haven’t been created thru Marvel/DC since the 90′s?
Comic creators have figured out the game, and take there cool creations elsewhere….

The entire reason this suit exist is because of an ex post facto law creating new interpretation of agreements DC and Jerry and Joe reached at the inception of Superman and their employment. As far as the actual understanding of the parties at the time, Superman was sold- lock, stock, and barrel… and indeed, that is what the case prior to the ’76 Copyright Act found.

So DC contracted to own Superman just as EVERY publisher contracted to own the works of their creators at the time did and continue to do today under the work-for-hire doctrine (if not explicitly covered by their employment contracts)… but due to some glitch in the date of creation versus hire and due to a law written decades after the fact, the heirs have been granted retroactive rights to something that they were not entitled to prior nor something any international body of law has sought to emulate. ONLY the US has termination rights and they are almost universally viewed as a quagmire of unintended consequences, even Judge Larson could not help but editorialize that the intention of the law could never have been to create a piecemeal Superman- “a cape here, a villain there” but rather deal with rights as an “aggregate whole.”

The bottom line is while it is entirely the heirs’ legal right to pursue their statutory termination rights, the rights themselves are not sound in terms of law, policy, facts, philosophy, or morality. The law doesn’t protect similarly situated creators who don’t have the benefit of the same contractual glitches, the law isn’t respected internationally, the law does follow the creator’s moral wishes but assigns a set prescribed remedy which does not support the underlying tenants of IP policy, and as a matter of fact, in this specific case, a third party will more readily profit from the case than any of the legislated parties.

Supporting the heirs in the case is more a matter of spite than logic, law, justice, or reality.

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