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Warner Bros. lawsuit against Superman attorney can continue

A federal judge has refused to dismiss Warner Bros.’ lawsuit against the attorney representing the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Variety reports.

The studio filed a 65-page complaint in May 2010 accusing Marc Toberoff, its longtime legal nemesis, of orchestrating “a web of collusive agreements” that led the Siegel family to reject “mutually beneficial” longtime deals with DC Comics and seek to recapture copyright to the Man of Steel. The lawsuit, which hinges on documents stolen from Toberoff’s office and delivered anonymously to Warner Bros., is designed to force him to resign as the lawyer for the Siegels, who in 2008 successfully terminated the original 1938 transfer of copyright for Action Comics #1. The window will open in 2013 for Shuster’s estate to do the same.

Toberoff filed a motion in August 2010 to dismiss the studio’s complaint under California anti-SLAPP laws designed to curb lawsuits intended to intimidate the opposition through delays and legal expense.

However, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright ruled Toberoff had failed to demonstrate that his role as attorney for the Siegel and Shuster heirs is protected under the California statutes. Wright specifically cited a business deal Toberoff struck with the Shuster estate that he characterized as “not an agreement for the provision of legal services, but one concerning the exploitation of Joe Shuster’s creations.” That’s presumably a reference to an arrangement that Warner Bros. charged would give Toberoff and his companies “a controlling financial interest in the families’ collective claims — leaving him as the largest financial stakeholder” in the Man of Steel.

Toberoff insisted in court filings that he hadn’t consulted with the Siegels, and had yet to even meet them, when they dropped their previous attorneys and formally called off negotiations with DC Comics in September 2002. He said that while two of his companies, IP Worldwide and Pacific Pictures, had agreements with the heirs, those have either expired or been terminated.

According to Variety, Wright also ruled that Toberoff must turn over a letter from Siegel’s daughter, Laura Siegel Larson, to her half-brother Michael, which Warner Bros. contends will support its claims that the attorney “tortiously interfered” in settlement talks.

The letter presumably was in response to the one written by Michael Siegel in May 2003 warning Laura not to become involved with Toberoff, whom he described as a “mysterious billionaire” plotting with Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel to gain control of Superman for themselves. (Michael’s letter was among the papers stolen from Toberoff’s office). Although never close with his father, Michael still has a financial stake in the outcome of the case. Toberoff allegedly had attempted to involve Michael in the effort to reclaim the copyrights but was rejected.

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16 Comments

How dare you not advise your clients to take our deal!-Warner Bros

in other words warners is just doing its normal buisness of making sure in the end it keeps super man under its roof. though one would think given all the documents warners is using against toberoff were stolen the judge would have had to say can not use them due to how they were not obtain in an illegal method. as the battle over the man of steel keeps on going.

ment to say the documents were not obtain in a legal method. still figured warners is going to try every thing to keep superman from winding up back in the estates of his creators

And Toberoff stands to gain nothing, other than his standard fee?

I think that only people that lily white in this whole event are dead.

Everyone has an agenda.

You never heard this level of noise regarding Bob kane’s treatment of Bill Finger, and he was in the exact same place as Siegel & Shuster before he died in the 70s.

The documents were obtained legally because Toberoff voided priviledge when he gave copies to police investigators regarding the alleged theft (note that the alleged theif has not be sanctioned, charged, or disciplined). That’s Priviledge 101. If Toberoff wanted to claim the documents were confidential he shouldn’t have handed them over to the police and they still would have been under a duty to investigate the theft.

By the by, Toberoff’s alleged activity would be cause for sanction, which is exactly why the case hasn’t been dismissed… but some people care more about sticking it to DC than justice or rule of law!

The current termination right has nothing to do with justice, it’s an American anomaly panned by academics and international law… it doesn’t help similarly situated persons (Kirby, for example) and doesn’t actually help the creators (S&S having both passed), doesn’t promote enrichment of the public domain (since the IP doesn’t revert to the public domain but to the creators irrespective of original contracted intent- which S&S lost in 3 levels of court decades ago), is inalienable so even if DC paid out the nose in an agreement they could not stop the creators from exercising the right since such agreements would be unenforceable (like selling your right to vote- which is what the heirs have done, take pay days then refuse to abide by the agreements), and doesn’t follow creator intent… the creators can’t terminate the right or decide who it goes to… it is forced on through the heirs by the poorly written law. So even if a creator wants to disinherit an heir, stop the right, or give it to someone else, he has no choice. So Shuster’s nephew (who didn’t know his uncle from Adam) or Siegle’s son (who wasn’t close to his father) have claims irrespective of the creators’ desires and a windfall against DC who developed the property (creating no particular incentive for them to enrich the public domain).

Worst yet, it’s an ex-post facto law, applied retroactively so it provides zero guidance to publishers on how to treat future creators, IP, or enrich the public domain.

Greedy little Toberoff.

I hope the Siegels and Shusters win. DC comics just keeps letting fanboys screw with Superman. Maybe they can do a better job.

Realitätsprüfung

October 26, 2011 at 8:25 am

^^ I find it more than a little sad that your statement basically boils down to you want the person to win based on who will write the types of Superman stories you want to read.

Rather than what is fair.

Or just.

Or legal, for that matter.

And then you throw around “fanboy” as a pejorative to describe *someone else*. Wow.

—-

Personally, I am certain a mutually-beneficial agreement will be reached at some point, though it seems to me it’s 30-40 years after it could have done some good for Superman’s actual creators. That’s a shame.

I’m loving all the comments from people who want DC to end up losing the rights to Superman. Because that won’t screw over any fans. Probably Marvel zombies who have a strong anti-DC bias because, well, it’s not Marvel.

(BTW, I have nothing against Marvel. Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier is one of the best stories I’ve ever read)

If you believe DC is screwing up Superman, just wait until Toberoff gets his hands on the IP. The Siegel heirs are in the middle of a corporate battle that, despite who wins, they’ll end up the losers. Toberoff isn’t fighting for them – He’s fighting for a piece of the pie.

It would be amazing if the Siegel (and Shuster) heirs regained control of their father’s creation without corporate interference. Unfortunately, this current lawsuit would not result in that. Too bad DC couldn’t offer them the same proposal they offered Alan Moore for Watchmen.

Here’s what everyone has to remember:

The ongoing litigation between the Siegels and DC/TW has NOTHING to do with DC/TW’s lawsuit with Toberoff.

The guy has been trying to swindle the Siegels (if they do win against DC/TW) into giving him some sort of controlling interest towards Superman so he can make tons of money off potential new deals that they would never see.

The guy is a problem to all parties and no matter where you stand between the Siegels and DC/TW, the end result here should be you stand with DC/TW against Toberoff and then go back to your perspective opinions.

Evan is right.

On the subject of Toberoff’s involvement, I’d rather they find some damning piece of evidence and use that to have his liscence revoked. No liscence to practice law, no Toberoff interference.

@Xian
How would you resolve the entire thing? I plan on sending a letter to both parties making a heartfelt effort to convince them that continuing this legal farce is pointless, and that they should settle it once and for all like the “adults” they are.

Well here’s the thing the Siegal, Shuster heirs get the rights back…what are they planing on doing with them…lease out the character to studios!!!

Here’s the thing it appears as though the lawyer in this case is trying to win himself part of the rights.

It would probably be better for the heirs to settle on an agreement with Warner….a company that has successfully maintained the brand for many many years.

The Siegels and Shusters are so blinded by greed that they are giving this totally creepy ambulance chaser control over the creation they claim to “love” so much. Serves them right. Those who blame DC for all this, or who think the original creators are somehow victims, are living in a sad, ignorant fantasy world.

I’ve seen it from both sides. I’m a creator who also worked in publishing so I decided to start my own company, as a way to promote other creators I admired–for every one smart creator who understood, there were ten crazies who had insane demands and expectations or else were ready to claim victim status. as just example, one clown thought he deserved $10 for each copy of a $15 book that sold, even though the gross profit after printing, shipping, and wholesale discount would have been less than $2–I even showed him the receipts and costs up front, opened all the books, but he was so “sure” I was ripping him off he sent me death threats….then couldn’t understand why I decided not to publish it. That’s a very, very common scenario in small, start-up publishing.

People love to paint creators as “victims” because they choose to remain ignorant of business (“I’m an Ar-TEEST!”) and therefore are always totally paranoid about being cheated…but they never consider that this ignorance works the other way, and that they might not have any clue whatsoever about the realities of the expenses and margins of publishing. People ONLY ever want to believe the company is at fault.

I know DC did some things wrong, but compared to the music and film industries what they might have done wrong is kids’ stuff, totally insignificant by comparison to what the heirs are trying to pull off. In this case I have almost-total sympathy for DC. The undeserving families and their creepy lawyer are continuing the pathetic example of failed, greedy stupidity pioneered by Siegel and Shuster.

The documents were still stolen and as for the Heirs they have every and I do mean every right to profit off of Superman as is stated by our law and yes I’m talking about America’s Copyright Law which states that fact.This issue is not about if the family of the creators deserve to make money off of Superman.It’s about Warner Bros fighting tooth and nail even though the outcome is inevitable because 2013 is just around the corner.There is no way the Shusters are going to back down now knowing that in 2013 they can finally reclaim what Joe Shuster tried to get but unfortunately failed..The copyright to Superman.The judge gave them the news as did their lawyer and I doubt Warner Bros is going to make any head way with this lawsuit.Plus this ain’t going to win them any brownie points with the family either.You think they’ll want to deal with this corporate company that is trying desperately to keep their claws on that other half of the Superman copyright? Hell no but I guess we’ll all see in 2013 what happens.

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