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Ruling looms in Shuster estate’s bid to reclaim Superman rights

From Action Comics #1

A federal judge is set to decide whether the estate of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster can reclaim a portion of the rights to the Man of Steel.

Variety reports U.S. District Judge Otis Wright has canceled a hearing scheduled for Aug. 20 on a DC Comics motion for summary judgment in the drawn-out, and increasingly bitter, legal dispute, saying he will decide the matter without oral argument.

With the window opening next year for the Shuster estate to recapture its stake in the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1, DC filed the motion last month revisiting its earlier claims that termination notice filed in 2003 by the artist’s nephew Mark Warren Peary is invalid. The heirs of Shuster’s collaborator Jerry Siegel reclaimed their portion of the rights in 2008 and 2009 under a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act.

The publisher argues the Shuster termination notice is voided, in part, by a 1992 agreement in which the estate relinquished all claims to the Man of Steel in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” which included paying Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and providing his sister Jean Peavy with a $25,000 annual pension.

Attorney Marc Toberoff, who represents both families, counters that the survivor payments constitute a “modest” pension increase from an earlier agreement, and that the 1992 contract makes no mention of termination rights.

Wright gave no indication when he would rule. DC is also seeking to overturn the 2008 decision granting the Siegel family half the rights to the first Superman story, arguing that the court should enforce a deal abandoned in 2001 when the heirs were approached by Toberoff.

That 2008 decision allowed the Siegel family to reclaim many of the Man of Steel’s defining elements, including his costume, Lois Lane, his origin and secret identity — and paved the way for the Shuster estate to do the same in October 2013 — while leaving Warner Bros. and DC with such later additions as Lex Luthor, kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen.

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23 Comments

Which I’m sure had no bearing on the New 52 reboot. At all. Nope, not one bit.

David, considering that he’s still got the same secret identity, still uses the S shield, still knows Lois Lane and still has basically the same origin… how does the New 52 seem to “help” DC in this sense? I don’t think the New 52 had anything to do with this.

@ David

The New 52 reboot probably would have occurred anyway. In the last few years DC saw their sales fall about 50%; they had to do something. If it was all just about Superman they could’ve just radically rebooted Superman and Superman alone.

Agree with Barry. The only thing the ruling would change is the origin story at this point (that’s where the rights come into play). The bigger surprise will be to see what they’ve done (if anything) with the movie.

This circus is depressing.

Barry, I disagree in part. I don’t think the entire New 52 stemmed from this, but some of the changes can help if they need to give up certain aspects of the character. Not being married to Lois being one of them. Sure he knows here but she could be written out (sadly) if need be. Furthermore, the S shield hasn’t resembled that of the original Action Comics #1 version for quite some time. I don’t like the changes to the current Superman costume in the New 52, but I have suspected that the lawsuit might be the reason. If they feared that the suit might not go their way what better time to make some changes and have it appear in continuity than aas a reaction to a ruling.
No matter how you look at it, it is a mess for the families involved as well as the future of the Man of Steel.

…DC owns all the trademarks. No matter what happens with the Siegel and Shuster terminations, DC will still own the name and the costume.

If the New 52 reboot were about trying to make Superman legally distinct from Siegel and Shuster’s version by giving him a new costume, I don’t think they would have done the same thing in 50 other comics. Or, you know, kept the origin story.

Even if the Siegel and Shuster estates each get awarded half the rights to Action #1, we’re looking at years of legal wrangling as to what exactly that entails. I think it’s very unlikely that the estates will try to stop DC from continuing to use Superman (though they’ve certainly had some complaints about the development of the films); they want to maximize their profits, and that means working with DC to get as large a cut as they can.

its all about the benjamins!

LOL @ Thad. apparently you need to take a copyright/ trademark class. the trademark only covers the name superman appearing on the cover of the comic. it has virtually nothing to do with the likeness, or anything, name included on the interior of the work/comic. example: the original Ray is public domain, and so is the original blue-beetle. anyone may publish them. they cant use the title of the comic as their names, but can use their names in the interior of the comic. the trademarks are the only thing DC owns, which again does not have anything to do with likeness, or interior copyright, which is lapsed. the “s” shield of today is also trademark-able, but any designer can re-design an “s” ten times better for the heirs, who should have been ruled the sole owners of superman ages ago.

the ruling should the judge let shuster estate claim their share of superman means dc and warners with siegel estate already having their part of the copyright means dc and warners will wind up having to pay them a royalty or try and buy superman outright once and for all from them. espically since dc originaly refused superman and then published superman without siegel and shusters okay. hope the judge rules in favor of the estates.

I honestly hope the judge rules in favor of WB/DCE. The heirs already had a deal with DC and would have been well taken care of BEFORE Toberoff stepped in. He wants Superman for himself and doesn’t give a damn about the heirs. He also owns an IP company and his agreement with the heirs would give him quite a large stake in Superman, should they win. Get Toberoff out of the picture!

demoncat:”espically since dc originaly refused superman and then published superman without siegel and shusters okay”

Not true. DC did refuse SuperBOY multiple times, before the character debuted in More Fun Comics #101 with a script very similar to one Siegel had submitted and had rejected, while Siegel was away in the Army and without his knowledge or consent. (DC denies this – the two reprints of MFC 101 I’m aware of from the last dozen years list the author as “Unknown”.) However, Shuster was fully aware of the situation, since he drew that first issue at DC’s request.

But the Superboy rights are a different legal matter from the Superman rights. DC famously paid $130 for the rights to Superman ($10 per page for the Action #1 story) and commissioned S&S to continue the series for Action #2 forward, up until 1947, so they certainly were aware and consented with regards to Superman.

I agree, Kal-El Fan. I would be more sympathetic to the heir’s cause if they were actually going to get the rights for themselves, as opposed to a significant chunk going to Toberoff.

@ Defiance-Defiant: apparently you should have paid a bit more attention in your trademarks class. Both the image and the word are able to be registered as trademarks, and DC/WB do have trademarks on the Superman “image.”

See, for example, currently live trademarks: 71444138, 73057159, or 73231893.

Also, you seem to be a bit confused about Copyright, and IP in general, but that’s OK. Go take another look at Dastar and Gaimain, and maybe check in with your professor’s office hours. I’m sure you’ll figure it out before the end of the semester.

Can anyone tell me…. that Can WB/DC just pay a huge chunk of money to families or whoever to get ALL the Rights to themselves?!?
& if they CAN they why are they NOT doing it! & finish this legal battle shit!!

& What implications, if ruling goes against WB/DC, will have on SUPERMAN in comics & on MAN OF STELL in film; as his Character or “S” or other stuff!
What DC can lose!!
Is their a chance that in future… DC can lose ALL the rights to SUPERMAN?
If that happens then WHO will publish Comics & Make films?

Can someone please tell me… I’m so worried!
After so many years we are gona have a Superman film & this mess is popping up!

Hi Mac,
I’m not a trademark/copyright expert, but I believe any and all copyrights on any IP revert back to the creator and/or heirs every 30+ years or so (might be longer, I can’t remember and it’s relatively recently been changed). So every X number of years, DC would have to renegotiate with the heirs on the rights to Superman, I believe. As I mentioned in my earlier post, DC/WB had an agreement with the heirs that was ready to go until Marc Toberoff stepped in.

As far as what can happen to Superman, that is a very complicated matter. DC owns all of the Superman trademarks, the name, the current S-shield, etc. The heirs would own elements of the story including Superman/Clark Kent himself. If I remember correctly, all this is limited to the US. WB/DCE own ALL of the INTERNATIONAL rights to Superman outright. As I understand it, the heirs could produce Superman comics, movies, etc in the US, just without the “Superman” logo and S-shield (they could use the original one or create something new) and they can’t call the book “Superman” (as with the Captain Marvel/Shazam situation). However, DCE/WB could create all of the Superman comics and films they want overseas, exactly as the character is now (and pre-Flashpoint) without consent of the heirs. However, those products COULD NOT be LEGALLY released in the US.

It’s really a very complex matter.

For all practical purposes, neither side can do much without the other. It’s just a matter of how much money goes where.

“And so it begins again.Let’s get ready to rumble!”

“I honestly hope the judge rules in favor of WB/DCE. The heirs already had a deal with DC and would have been well taken care of BEFORE Toberoff stepped in. He wants Superman for himself and doesn’t give a damn about the heirs. He also owns an IP company and his agreement with the heirs would give him quite a large stake in Superman, should they win. Get Toberoff out of the picture!”

Kal-El Fan, yours has been one of the very few entirely sensible comments I’ve seen about this whole matter. The problem is not the heirs (well, not *really*), nor is it DC–this whole clusterf*ck is down almost entirely to the money-grubbing tactics of Marc Toberoff, and he is the reason I want the heirs to lose this case.

@ Kal-El Fan I couldn’t agree more. This mess would’ve been over and done with had Toberoff not stuck his ore in it. It doesn’t make any sense to the family to keep him on as their lawyer know what his true intentions are.

As much as I want the families of the two men who gave us the Man of Steel nearly 75 years ago to be taken care of financially, I don’t want Marc Toberoff to win. I pray the jugde will do the right thing.

I look forward to the day that Superman (as seen in Action #1) is in the public domain, the way Sherlock Holmes or Dracula are today. Maybe then we can finally get some real creativity and imagination with the character.

THAT’S IT!!! I’M MAILING MY LETTER!!! WHO HERE KNOWS THE ADDRESS OF THE COURTHOUSE THESE PROCEEDINGS ARE TAKING PLACE AT??? I’m serious.

Well said Kal-El Fan and I completely agree.

I agree that the presence of Toberoff makes the whole situation distasteful.

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