Robot 6

Jerry Siegel’s daughter speaks out in open letter to Superman fans

Action Comics #1

The same day that she helped to dedicate an exhibit at Cleveland’s airport recognizing the city as the place of Superman’s creation, Jerry Siegel’s daughter issued a letter to fans recounting her family’s fight to reclaim a portion of the Man of Steel copyright, and criticizing the tactics used by Warner Bros. and DC Comics in the increasingly bitter legal battle.

Characterizing their 15-year crusade as “my family’s David and Goliath struggle against Warner Bros.,” Laura Siegel Larson writes, “My father, Jerry Siegel, co-created Superman as the ‘champion of the oppressed … sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!’ But sadly his dying wish, for his family to regain his rightful share of Superman, has become a cautionary tale for writers and artists everywhere.”

A federal judge ruled in 2008 that the family had succeeded in recapturing that share of the first Superman story in Action Comics #1 through a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act (the scope of the decision is on appeal), paving the way for the estate of Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013, effectively stripping DC of some of the defining elements of the Man of Steel, including his secret identity, his origin, his costume and Lois Lane. DC fired back in 2010, suing to force Marc Toberoff to resign as the Siegel attorney, claiming he enticed the heirs to walk away from a $3 million deal that would’ve permitted the company to retain control of Superman and stands to gain controlling interest in the property. DC is also asking a court to block the Shuster estate from reclaiming its stake, arguing the family relinquished all claims to Superman in 1992 in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” including payment of Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and a $25,000 annual pension for his sister Jean Peavy.

Siegel Larson’s letter, first published by The Hollywood Reporter, arrived on the heels of a DC motion filed Wednesday in the Shuster case accusing Toberoff of, among other things, concealing evidence.

“Warner has spent about $35 million dollars on corporate lawyers to fight my family and the Shusters instead of investing in a fair settlement,” she writes. “The very attorneys who are lining their pockets with millions in fees accuse my attorney of profiteering when, in fact, Marc has not received one cent since he filed the first Superman case for us in 2004, and has advanced enormous sums out of his own pocket on our behalf. Unlike Warner’s highly paid attorneys, Marc Toberoff will not be compensated unless and until we prevail.”

Siegel Larson’s mother Joanne Siegel wrote to  Time Warner Chairman Jeffrey L. Bewkes shortly before her death in February 2011 pleading for an end to the company’s “mean-spirited tactics” and asking for a resolution to the legal feud. Read Siegel Larson’s full letter below.

News From Our Partners

Comments

59 Comments

Translation: My family would like to gain even more cash from this huge corporation. Interesting how they continue to come back to the well after numerous previous settlements.

I have no sympathy for her or her lawyer.

Superman should be in public domain. The families did not create the character, DC/Warner Bros et al did not create the character.

Screw this woman who wants to get (more) money for something she didn’t have anything to do with, and screw everyone who supported the copyright extension act that kept Superman from belonging to the American people.

Actually. I believe in an episode of The Adventures of Lois & Clark. Superman donates all the money he received from merchandising and his likeness to charities and kids in need. Just saying.

However you fall on the Superman copyright case, I don’t think “Screw her” should be a thing you say. She didn’t kill your puppy. It’s one thing to not agree with a stance, it’s another thing to just be mean because it’s “the internets.”

I don’t know how to feel about this; I’m trying to keep an open mind, but it does seem a tad greedy and opportunistic to me, and the whole letter seems to be designed to swipe at the low-hanging fruit to get me to feel sorry for her. Anyone have any quality links to point me in the direction of some hard facts? I want to read more about this now.

Sorry, this is a debacle. I only see people out for money. The lawyer is greedy. I can’t see how anyone can say he is not. And this is trying to get sympathy in a way I find distasteful. Just let the courts get on with it. No need to get this dramatic.

cue entitled fans, who just want their monthly issue of Superman punches baddies in the face, and could care less about creators’ rights, attacking the heirs

I havent followed this case very closely and the question I have is what is it that she wants? More credit for the character? Monetary compensation? Is she trying to publish her own Superman comic with another company?

Did her lawyer put her up to this? What is the point of this? She’s talking about a fictional character as if she knows what he would do. Did SHE ever put anything creative in him? I really hope this things is settled soon because it’s getting ludicrous now. I’m just a fan who has enjoyed what DC has done with him. I pay for my books and hope I enjoy them.Not here to be emotionally blackmailed because people are fighting over money.

All DC/Warner is guilty of, is “inheriting” the deals that Siegel & Schuster originally made with National Publications. Yeah, they made a bad deal in retrospect, but it was a deal nonetheless. At the time, no one figured that anybody could make money off a character in what was then a bastard medium compared to newspaper strips. When they realized that their “creation” did make money, they went to court and sued.. and settled. And then, they went back again and sued several more times.. each time settling.

I definitely believe that the Siegels & Schusters abused the court process, over & over, and at this point that it should be over. She points out in her letter how much DC/Warner is spending to defend this case.. and it’s only because they’ve been put into this situation by Siegel, Schuster & Relatives, trying to get another $20 out.

Screw this woman who wants to get (more) money for something she didn’t have anything to do with

Yes, how dare this woman who grew up spending her formative years in a family which was in desperate straights while her father worked in a series of menial jobs because he was shut out of any profit participation from a creation which has raked in billions of dollars.

I’m not all that impressed with Toberoff and am increasingly suspicious of his motives, but the one thing I can’t abide is people accusing Laura Siegel or her mom of somehow being parasitical. They lived impoverished in part because DC wouldn’t give them even a token amount for the rights to Superman. I think they have a valid stake, because the situation directly impacted them and their circumstances.

Whether the Siegels and any of their heirs have any right to the character is another dispute.

I have no sympathy where Marc Toberoff is involved. He is definitely not looking out for the heirs best interest.

Deals were made already by Siegel and Shuster themselves and once Siegel and Shuster died, their family members decided to listen to Toberoff’s idea of gaining even more money, but at the cost of giving him controlling share of Superman. And of course Toberoff isn’t gonna get any money until they win because that is how the lawyer agreed to work. It is a chance he takes by accepting that form of agreement. It happens all the time. Trying to make him out to be a victim just doesn’t give any sympathy at all towards the case in my opinion. He talked them out of a settlement already just so he could get rights to the character himself, yet the families are saying he is the “good guy”.

My thoughts?? S&S willingly signed away their rights. Willingly. No gunpoint. Period.

And wasn’t there some agreement with DC years ago that provided healthcare benefits and some amount of cash (whatever the amount)?

So if S&S agreed to those terms later, I don’t get this ongoing lawsuit.

But then again, my understanding of all the legal ins and outs is pretty limited.

Graeme Burk – “I’m not all that impressed with Toberoff and am increasingly suspicious of his motives, but the one thing I can’t abide is people accusing Laura Siegel or her mom of somehow being parasitical. They lived impoverished in part because DC wouldn’t give them even a token amount for the rights to Superman. I think they have a valid stake, because the situation directly impacted them and their circumstances”

Sorry, but if the agreement/contract does not include heirs getting money after a death (beyond the wife of course), then the deal is over.. Stan Lee was smart enough to include his wife and daughter in his contract. In the event of his death, his wife gets 1/2 his payment and then when she dies, he daughter gets 1/4th of the payment he was getting. It all depends on the original agreement. An agreement that was already fulfilled by DC.

She says they turned down WB’s offers before Tobreoff got involved because it was so unfair.

Why don’t you guys actually read the letter first.

don’t look at the comments don’t look at the comments don’t look at the comments don’t look at the comments FUCK

I think what strikes me the most is the claim that WB has spent $35 million fighting this.. If that were true, I’m kind of amazed they didn’t just throw a third of that at the families along with an iron clad ‘hold harmless’ going forward.. and call it a day. This whole thing does strike me at times as being exacerbated by the attorneys on both sides.

You can have zero sympathy for her or her family but it doesn’t change the fact or the law that Jerry Siegel daughter has inherited Superman.You can hate on her all you want but those are the facts.If she wants to fight over ownership over the character and the copyright law clearly states that once the creator passes away, their heir will inherit their creation unless, the artist or inventor signs away those rights for an even longer time period, at the end of the day they have the right to fight for what they believe is theirs.

It’s funny how you guys who throw all the hate at the creator of freaking Superman daughter, but have nothing negative to say about the folks up at Dc comics who basically screwed over the creators when they got the rights to a character that they actually believed, they would be able to keep forever.Then the copyright law changed, in the favor of the creators of art,music and most likely inventions.But I’ll stick to the art and music copyright.Dc comics should have realized that they wouldn’t be able to hold on to the Superman that they got forever. We’ve all seen the changes they made to the character once they lost the copyrights to his original look and how that has effected even the film version as well.

You say whether the Siegels heirs have any right to the character is another dispute? lol. Sounds like someone hasn’t been keeping up with the new copyright law.It’s called the Copyright Termination Notice and designed for the creators or their heirs who want to regain the rights back to their creation.That’s where the Siegels come in.They filled out the proper paper works and even when Dc comics tried to convince a judge that they made a mistake in the form, the judge after reviewing all of the paper works rejected Dc comics protest and thus granted certain copyrights back to the Siegel family.So yes, the Siegels do have a right to the character.

Here’s another fun fact: Even if both families agreed to a new deal and signed a contract granting Dc comics an extended amount of control over the copyrights of Superman, the thing that you have to take into account is the fact that after a certain amount of years, it could be another 30′s years for all we know…Eventually they will be in the same situation that they are in right now.They will have to renegotiate a new deal with the next generation of Siegels and Shusters and pray that the family does not sign a Copyright Termination Notice.

Who ever said that Dc comics was going to be able to keep Superman forever? Superman is not a work for hire character and so at the end of the day or future, this drama will never really end until Dc comics is finally backed into a corner with no argument about any new deals and they end up finally raising that white flag in defeat.Either way, they can not prolong the inevitable.There will come a day where Dc comics will be left with what used to look like Superman but is more of a shell of the character, while the family will also be left with a 1930′s version of Superman, with Lois,Clark and wait…where’s the Daily Planet? Oh…yeah..the Daily Star.

A judge either in this century or the next will throw down the gauntlet and Superman will be split in two.Dc comics will get to keep their updated future Superman and the Siegels and Shusters will have the 1930′s Superman.Both sides will leave either happy or sad but the bad blood and history is a long and bitter one between the family of the creators of Superman and Dc comics.Makes me kind of wish that Superman was real and in our world.No doubt, he’d be able to settle this dispute.

Ok, so the Siegels ave no right to the character because Jerry Siegel created it and not them…

By that logic, why does Warner Bros have the rights? They weren’t the original publisher.

One last thing.You guys should actually be praising the Shuster and Siegel family.If it wasn’t for them putting the pressure on Dc comics big brother Warner Bros by taking them to court over the film rights of Superman; thus making the judge of the trial give Warner Bros a stern warning that if they did not start working on a Superman movie by 2011, the two families can sue them for compensation over the rights to Superman…well we would not have a Man Of Steel movie coming out next year June 14,2013.Thank you Shuster and Siegels for giving us The Man Of Steel.If not for you, Warner Bros would still be sitting on the film rights that they have of Superman, doing nothing.

Did you hear that?! Warner Bros had to be forced with their backs against the wall by the court judge and a possible lawsuit before they got off their lazy asses to make the movie become a reality.

Marvel comics doesn’t even need a lawsuit to motivate them to make a movie on their most popular franchise characters.After the Man Of Steel comes out next year, Dc comics have got nothing new coming out maybe and that’s a huge maybe 2015; which would be the Justice League movie.But I’ll believe it when I see pictures and hear some big actor and actresses name on the project. They talked about a Justice League movie like forever but then canned the whole thing.Will the movie happen or will Warner Bros go all ghost on us again?

Lots of ignorant comments about the Siegels living up to the original 1938 deal, or Siegel and Shuster not being “smart” enough.

The current legal dispute is not about the 1938 contract. It’s irrelevant whether that contract was fair or not, or whether Siegel and Shuster were compensated adequately during their lifetimes. The 1938 deal is history, it is what it is, and nobody can change that.

The current copyright law allows Siegel’s heirs to claim back the property after a certain amount of time has passed, and this is what Warner has been trying to prevent since 1999. Warner/DC is the opportunistic party here, trying to find loopholes in a law that was specifically designed to benefit the heirs of people who sold their creations (after the corporations who bought them had several decades to make a profit).

I wish people’d do more reading about the case before opening their ignorant mouths and making idiotic and ill-conceived statements.

This is just ridiculous! As a huge Superman fan I’m extremely troubled at her views on this matter. Its obvious all their after is money. And didn’t Seigel along with Shuster sell the RIGHTS to Superman back when he was created to DC. Its amazing how you can sell an idea when you anticipate it won’t amount to anything but when it does, WELL! That deal doesn’t count anymore we want our money! Get outta here! I’m all for the little guy but Warner/DC has paid these people countless times. And still they come back for more. If they win any part of Superman they won’t own all of him because DC has copyrights on parts of his costume, including the iconic S! All they would win is the name and the idea. And in the process accomplish in destroying the most iconic character in pop culture history worldwide. Way to honor your father!!! SMH!

Lackshmana? Maybe you should change that name to idiot.You hate the copyright extension law but I love it, because it protects my comic book creations.If not for it, every popular cartoon out there would be public domain.Mickey Mouse and the whole freaking crew would be public domain.Mc freaking Donalds would be public domain.

I get public domain when an artist lets their work to fall in that category by not keeping up with their rights or publishing any new works but there is no reason why someone who worked their blood sweat and tears then gained fame from their comic book or any cartoon creation, should have their work fall into the public domain because the government did not have the copyright extension law.

You can hate it all you want but the law is the law.Just like it is with the freedom of speech that allows idiots such as yourself to hate on the law that protects the rights of artist such as myself.Your ignorance is duly noted Lackshmana.

You expect people to educate themselves before expressing an opinion? HAHAHAHAHA

Eventually this all becomes a moot point anyway, tho prob not in our lifetimes. Copyright on Superman expires in 2033 (assuming no further extensions like the Sonny Bono Act). I’ll be 63. The trademark however (the ability to print the word Superman on things like comic book covers, t-shirts, etc.) will always be owned by DC as long as they continue to renew.

So basically DC has another 20 years of Superman left.

I wonder who are all these people making dickish comments here? Certainly not the Superman fans that Laura Siegel appealed to. Per the law revisions, DC enjoyed longer the profits from Superman, per that same law the Siegels have a right to reclaim their property. How does it make sense for DC to give 35 millions of dollars to lawyers and offer 3 millions dollars to the Siegels? If one wonders how DC got there, it’s easy to fathom their disregard is the cause of it.
They get no brownie point for settling before, they were forced to do so by the actions of Neal Adams and the power of public opinion.
(Actually I wonder if all the moronic comments here aren’t spurred by agents working for DC and dupes following those)

I really dislike siding against the family of the creators – but, this whole time, it has indeed sounded like their lawyer convinced them to walk away from the mutually beneficial settlement. And that comment that he hasn’t accept one cent for his work, ignores the HUGE payoff he’s worked out for himself if they should win. That is a clear conflict on interest.

I also look at this, and I agree the families should have gotten more. But – look at the settlement they received upon his death? Isn’t this just a second bite at the apple?

All of this speculation ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is the end result for the family – and if this case is such torture, then I think that mutually beneficial settlement offered by DC WOULD be in the family’s best interest. (And for anyone suggesting that DC hasn’t offered them anything — their accusations present such an offer. If the family wants to point that to the court, and say they will accept it, then they should.)

Simply put – a big payday for the lawyer makes the decision to settle murky, at best. Even if you think the family does deserve more — their lawyer seems to be ignoring his duty to his clients. Court cases aren’t winner-take all – sometimes victory is in a settlement.

I haven’t read all comments here, but some are really harsh.

My problem with such lawsuits in general ist that they are only fought for monetary reasons alone. While understandable, who wouldn’t want to have a nice big slice from the pie, the motives quite often appear pretextual. Very often the prosecuting parties argue in favour of moral issues, influence in character directions etc.

Honestly, if seventy years ago, the comic book Action Comics 1 hadn’t been successfully initiated myriads of stories with the Superman character, nobody would have ever filed any lawsuit at all.

To cut it short, while I understand a certain frustration concerning the families, they should argue in all fairness that this is not a moral, but a finacial issues.

With so much at stake, I wouldn’t put it past Warners to have a bunch of anonymous posters attacking the Seigel family. Or maybe certain people want to identify with the oppressors, instead of the oppressed. Who knows, makes no sense ..

anyhow, we all would like to think we could come up with an artistic creation that would be so loved worldwide that billions would be made .. but for the Seigel family .. it has been more of a blessing than a curse .. due to the actions of the current corporate owners.

Which is the reason that IMAGE comics are so cool ..

Read up on copyright law on the federal level.

–federal law states that if you create something, no matter if you sell it or not, you, and your legally adopted, or legal by blood heirs are seen as the creators, & can terminate your portion of the copyrights, and have the creation viewed as lapsed into the public-domain.–this law has been on the books for decades. this goes for anyone in the U.S. not only are the heirs right in attempting to get “their creation” back, they are legally able to file a simple termination of copyrights.

the heirs are legally seen as the creators in the event that the creators are deceased. the company DC, and the company Warner did not “create” anything. therefore they can not legally stop a termination of copyright. –it should also be noted that trademark is a different subject. even if the copyrights all fall into the public domain, so that anyone can then legally publish them, the trademarks will not. DC will still own them. but the trademark only covers the titles of any books,…not the interior use of copyright, or the original 1938 style costume. the heirs would also not have flight for their version…the original superman could only leap..much like the hulk…which would be interesting to me as a fan. –how would he leap, yet still protect the person hes saving? …we dont need a superman that can fly, we need a superman with values.

count me as against DC owning anything they did not create. especially since no one currently at DC or Warner, was alive at the time superman was created. they at DC should create all new heroes and all new villains, with today’s laws in mind, if they expect to be around and relevant within 55 more years.

People like to highlight the fact that National jackpotted from the Superman property. The fact remains that they could have just as easily lost on the deal. They paid the wages and Siegel & Schuster did a job. Just because it wound up being more popular than anyone expected does not entitle anyone to more than what was initially agreed upon.

The letter of the law and doing what’s right are not the same thing.

“Just because it wound up being more popular than anyone expected does not entitle anyone to more than what was initially agreed upon.”

Sean, when the original agreement was made, the duration of copyright was 56 years (28 years plus a second 28-year renewal period). Congress has extended that duration twice since then, and in fairness to creators (and their families and estates) included a clause permitting them to terminate the transfer after that 56-year period expired. After all, why should only corporations be able to benefit from a change to the law?

It amazes me how many people are in support of Warner Brothers, and claim to be fans of the characters! I’m calling bullshit on all of you.

How many REAL fans have been happy with the way WB has been handling DC characters: what long-time fan appreciated the new 52? What long time fan is happy with the Green Lantern movie, the overall handling of DC characters in cinema (e.g. why has there not been a JLA movie yet), what fan is happy with the marketing of the brilliant products that the Warner animation studio has produced?

I have no love for Warner Brothers as a corporation: I wished their characters were owned by someone else.

good for her for wanting to honor her fathers wish to gain his creation that dc and warners rejected and then published after wards . and of course warners is doing this for they do not want to lose the billions . even though a judge stated they have regain the copyright already. i hope in the end she suceeds in fulfilling her fathers wish and super man is back where he belongs in his creators hands. and then as payback they take super man to marvel

Wow, people can really suck sometimes. DC took advantage of two kids who did not sign a deal to give DC Superman. DC just acted like they did. After S&S started asking questions, DC blacklisted both of them and really made sure they were poor. DC didn’t create anything.

sad that these are the “fans” that she wrote the open letter to. Between the fans’ behavior, and the mercilessness of the publishers – it’s no wonder comics remains a backwater industry

I’ve read 419 scams with more substantive prose than that. She really ‘knows’ her audience doesn’t she?

@Chris Hero, they SOLD the rights which means they DON’T have them any more. They also had a ten year contract to make Superman comics for National, which was pretty common practice for the time. It’s purely because Superman made a ton of cash that this is happening. You don’t see the SnS estate suing for the right to The Spectre do you?

If (as many say) argue that ‘DC didn’t create Superman’ then the same argument can be said for the estate, they didn’t create him either.

That bit in the letter about ‘A dieing wish’ is incredibly tacky and some how I doubt it’s true. If I’m on my death bed I know I really wouldn’t give a shit about something I know is beyond my ability to do anything about.

This whole thing is about money, nothing more. Greed verses greed.

After all what are they going to do with the rights if they get any more of them back?

PS!

I also know about the whole copyright limit and claiming the rights back after a certain time and heirs “Being creators” and all that, but that’s STILL bullshit.

Just because it’s ‘law’ doesn’t make it right either, to re-iterate what is the estate going to do if they actually get Superman back? Nothing that’s what. We’ll just wind up with no Superman comics.

OH and yeah there’s the matter of another film due out next year, wonder what will happen if they get the rights back before that?

YES WB are being shitty, but so’s the estate. WB are being shitty because the’re fighting a lawsuit to keep profitable characters because they are a media business that makes money off that kind of thing…ok maybe that’s actually only slightly brown common sense. The estate are being shitty because now they’ve stooped to emotional blackmail to win back the rights to characters they’ve never had anything to do with and will probably never do anything with if they win.

“You don’t see the SnS estate suing for the right to The Spectre do you?”

The Spectre was pretty clearly work made for hire; Superman, however, was created outside of DC/National.

@lead sharp

No, they didn’t. They entered an agreement for National to publish their book, and then National went and snuck in a clause where they signed their rights away in return for their pay. If we can’t agree on that, then there is no discussion here. The view that a contract was signed and that’s all that matters is reductionist at best.

“That bit in the letter about ‘A dieing wish’ is incredibly tacky and some how I doubt it’s true. If I’m on my death bed I know I really wouldn’t give a shit about something I know is beyond my ability to do anything about.”

Siegel died in 1996, shortly after the window opened to terminate the Superman copyright, so I don’t think it’s outlandish to suggest that a writer who had feuded with DC for decades over the property might go to his grave wishing his family would regain his stake in the character.

@lead sharp

I kinda forgot something. The problem, as I understand it, is there isn’t a clear-cut contract outlying the transfer of all rights for infinity to DC. There was a payment for $130 for “Superman,” but it’s part of a paycheck for previously published work. There’s a lot of legal grey area. The legal grey area is the issue. DC’s treatment of S&S in the intervening years has not given them a lot of sympathy from the creator rights crowd.

again: federal law states the creation is seen by the courts as also created by the families of the creators, in the event of the creators deaths. this goes for great grand children as well. whether it was legally sold or not has zero bearing on the fact that those heirs have the same abilities to file a simple termination of copyright after a number of years, just like the creators would have if they had lived. –this law has been in effect since 1913. its to keep corporations honest about royalties owed to the creators and their future offspring. also: DC is the one, along with warner who has repeatedly sullied the character with constant revamps, endless changes from the original intention, and extra powers from the original leaping superman. up with creators, and their families seen as the legal creators, and down with corporations only interested in profits, & changing creations they did not create. –the current heads of DC and Warner, weren’t even born when superman was twenty years old.

Pink Apocalypse

October 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Ahh, vicious, overwrought hyperbole. Where would the internet be without you?

First off, let me go on the record and that the treatment that Siegel and Schuster received from DC and later Warner Brothers was reprehensible. DC, and the comics field as a whole, was build on the success of Superman and as such owe those two kids from Cleveland a great deal. The entire debacle that resulted in Warner Bros. being publicly shamed into finally giving S&S a miserable stipend is a textbook example of corporate stupidity when it comes to handling bad publicity.
Having said this I also believe that S&S had signed away whatever rights they may may to the big “S” by the end of the 1940′s. Whether we like to admit it or not S&S were always incredibly shortsighted when it came to their own creation. Instead of concrete rights they always seemed to go for the short term money. I can’t help but think that if they had really believed in their work and their creation they wouldn’t have such a bad deal to begin with. The late Will Eisner, who was a contemporary and was roughly the same age as S&S, saw the value in owning and controlling his work over the long term. That’s why the Spirit was always trademarked and copyrighted by Eisner and is now controlled by his estate. At least until it goes public domain sometime in the mid 21st century.

I honestly feel that the Siegel & Schuster families don’t deserve the rights to the character. DC/Warner Bros. have the staff and creative talent, along with the marketing machine to nuture Superman (for better or worse) to continue to be a relevant American Icon. I honestly feel that DC/Warner know best when it comes to the future and survival of the character and property, and that the Siegel & Schuster families do not.

That said, the families deserve to reap the benefits of that. No relative in that family should ever want for anything. DC/Warner needs to take care of them for the rest of the heirs lives, every last one of them.

If she wanted the money, they should have signed that agreement that they had in hand prior to Toberoff butting in. They would have had their millions a few years ago and they could have moved on.

She, the family, and Toberoff all got greedy. It’s that simple, even though the case itself has become more complicated thanks to Toberoff’s machinations.

Brian from Canada

October 14, 2012 at 9:05 am

A lot of fans are missing key points about the whole story:

1. Seagel and Shuster were compensated in 1978 with a new royalty package from DC/WB at fans’ insistence to prevent a boycott of Superman: The Movie.

2. The ONLY reason Seagel and Shuster’s families are able to apply pressure to WB on this matter is because of a clause put in to the last copyright extension by Sonny Bono, which was NOT aimed at the comicbook industry at all — it was aimed at the music business where Bono had worked before going into politics. All copyright at the time on printed material was held by the original author unless sold… and there were VERY few authors at the time who were seeking ownership of their work back because that’s not how prose publishing worked (like music, it was licensed and not sold).

3. WB claims to have been close to signing an agreement with the heirs before Toberoff got involved. $3 million in 1999 would be something like $8 million in today’s dollars because of inflation, so it’s not like the deal was paltry — AND that does not include royalties that would follow up on that.

4. Toberoff not only has included control of Superman in his contract with the heirs, but he has (according to documents he “accidentally” included in discovery) made licensing deals with them. Toberoff later asked that those papers be quashed from the case because they were not intended to be released. WB won the latter decision and is now using it to ask the courts to have him removed from the case because he is clearly not working in the heirs’ best interest. IF the heirs agree to a settlement that has WB in control of Superman in any way, Toberoff loses — and he’ll be encouraging them to say “no” no matter how generous it is.

5. Man Of Steel was announced as production to demonstrate an active concern in the property. If they did not, then the heirs were legally able to create their own film under their own deal — with no input at all by WB as to how it relates to their character. And trademark would only have occurred if they called the movie Superman: the heirs could call the character “Superman” and trademark the film as “The Hero” and it would (IIRC) be legal.

6. WB made similar trademark/copyright changes as well, removing “Superboy” from Legion Of Super-Heroes’ title and character roster (instead going with “Superman”) because the heirs were arguing that their copyright includes all derivatives from it — meaning they inherit Superboy as well. [This created worries about Smallville too, because of Clark Kent and Lois Lane.]

7. $35 million is paltry when the penalty of the copyright reversion is 50% of **ALL** Superman royalties internationally since (IIRC) 1976. That 50% of all movies, TV series and comics sold outside the continental USA. That includes titles like Smallville, which are Superman-centric, and Justice League. That’s a ****load of more cash than $35 million, and whatever they pay to one they WILL have to pay for the other.

8. WB has never once said they intend to block the heirs from a reasonable settlement. That’s a fan perspective based on the heirs’ complaints. But put it from WB’s perspective: the heirs can literally tear the heart out of DC Comics and all subsequent movie plans.

*IF* the heirs succeed, then DC will lose the right to publish Superman comics. And lose the right to make Superman movies. And lose the right to do a Justice League movie with Superman in it. Unless the heirs’ LAWYER approves of each one. And Toberoff has already expressed little to no interest in Superman staying with WB — he’s already shopped out different products and is looking to sell movie rights (which is why they talked about Man Of Steel.)

Do you really want a lawyer determining how the character is used?

Do you want to see the alternative — a final end to Superman once and for all, and a cancellation of any and all future trade paperbacks with those characters? The acting as if he didn’t exist, because the other characters can no longer say he did without WB paying a price for it?

(And no, trademark doesn’t ensure they keep that right. Trademark only means that the heirs can’t use the logo or symbols outside of the copyright without permission because they link back to WB.)

I know some fans don’t like the direction of the Nu52. But if the heirs succeed, then DC/WB will start again in a universe without a Superman, Superboy or Supergirl (all would be forbidden). How will that universe look?

Brian:

3. WB claims to have been close to signing an agreement with the heirs before Toberoff got involved. $3 million in 1999 would be something like $8 million in today’s dollars because of inflation, so it’s not like the deal was paltry — AND that does not include royalties that would follow up on that.

It would be $4.1 million in 2012 dollars.

4. Toberoff not only has included control of Superman in his contract with the heirs, but he has (according to documents he “accidentally” included in discovery) made licensing deals with them. Toberoff later asked that those papers be quashed from the case because they were not intended to be released. WB won the latter decision and is now using it to ask the courts to have him removed from the case because he is clearly not working in the heirs’ best interest. IF the heirs agree to a settlement that has WB in control of Superman in any way, Toberoff loses — and he’ll be encouraging them to say “no” no matter how generous it is.

That’s not the series of events. The infamous “Toberoff Timeline” and associated documents were stolen from the attorney’s office by a disgruntled former employee, who delivered them anonymously to Warner Bros. The studio complied with a court order to hand over the papers and then sought to have access to them. Toberoff argued they were privileged, but because he had turned them over in response to a grand jury subpoena in a criminal investigation of the theft, he was determined to have waived privilege.

Now, as to whether Toberoff is working in his clients’ best interest, I have no idea. However, it can be convincingly argued that the rights to key elements of Superman are worth a lot more than $3 million (or $4.1 million).

“7. $35 million is paltry when the penalty of the copyright reversion is 50% of **ALL** Superman royalties internationally since (IIRC) 1976. That 50% of all movies, TV series and comics sold outside the continental USA. That includes titles like Smallville, which are Superman-centric, and Justice League. That’s a ****load of more cash than $35 million, and whatever they pay to one they WILL have to pay for the other.”

Royalties/profit share would only apply retroactively from 1999 onward for the Siegels. Still, it’s a chunk of change.

***

The hand-wringing about what happens after 2013 (barring years of more lawsuits and motions, naturally) strikes me as overblown and smacks more than a little of fan entitlement. (I don’t simply mean your comments, as it’s become a fairly common refrain of, “Screw the family, we demand our Superman comics and movies on a timely basis … so we can complain that no one knows how to write Superman!”)

In reality, if both families manage to clear all of the legal hurdles — it’s unclear how the Shuster estate will fare in its current challenge — there’s not much they’ll be able to do with a character they can’t advertise as Superman, who can’t fight adversaries like Lex Luthor or Brainiac or the Phantom Zone Villains, who can’t rescue his pal Jimmy Olsen, who can’t be weakened by exposure to kryptonite, who can’t use heat vision or even fly.

They won’t be able to license his name and modern logo for clothes, toothbrushes and backpacks or for television and film. (Who’s going to flock to theaters to see Strong Guy in a Blue-and-Red Suit: The Movie?)

What they will be able to do is use those rights as leverage, to tell DC and Warner Bros. that, if they want to exploit a billion-dollar property, they’ll have to pay more than $3 million. (Of course, if the Shuster estate fails in its bid, DC will be able to continue as it always has, only it’ll have to cut the Siegel family in on profits.)

It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which DC will simply walk away from Superman. Far more likely, everything will end with all sides (possibly with a court-appointed mediator) agreeing to a one-off buyout or a lump sum followed by royalties, with fans never missing an issue of Superman.

So what’s the problem if the motive behind the Siegel family ‘s stand is money? DC is willing to pay 35 million dollars to lawyers to try to retain control over Superman… imagine how much money the character must bring them year after year.

I for one wouldn’t mind seeing the Siegels get the character back and finally watch DC implode – of course that won’t happen as they still have Batman and plenty of other “IP”s, as they like to call them, to loot. Before Watchmen, anyone?

And it isn’t just DC. Disney, Marvel, all a bunch of thieves that should get their fair reward… who knows, maybe sometime in the future there’ll be some sort of reckoning and they’ll finally get their fair share of the dirty deals they’ve been up to since the last century.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, someone give me the address for the courthouse this case is taking place in, I must send my letter!!!! PLEASE, I beg you, I’m being completely honest here!

Acer, you say that on virtually every article about the Siegel/Shuster/DC brawl. By this point you could’ve looked up the address yourself and walked the letter to Los Angeles.

That said, a letter to Judge Wilson would likely be deemed ex parte communication and go unread. Save your stamp.

I want to thank the people who have said Superman should be in the public domain.

The big issue here is the perpetual extension of copyright allowing these pointless legal disputes.

@Kevin
Wait, WHAT??? It wouldn’t have even mattered if I mailed it??? RRRrrrrr….

Actually, S&S have zero claim to Lex Luthor. He was created far later as work-for-hire. From what I understand, the S&S heirs really only have claim to what their parents produced independently of National/DC and pitched as a newspaper strip. Those issues were recut and modified and expanded for Action Comics, which is why the first Superman story starts with him racing to a governor’s house to prevent a woman’s unjustly execution and a later issue has the beginning of the story. Those original strips should (probably) be considered within the public domain. I wish the whole talent of the world had access to that at least.

I really don’t like the entirety of this case – because I don’t see why it hasn’t been settle yet. If Warners weren’t offering a fair settlement before, I would think they would be considering it now with parts of the case going against them. I just don’t see the logic in why this has gone on as long as it has, if not for an emotional struggle. And to what end? Yes – the creators of Superman never got what they really deserved – but it’s over 70 years later. I thought this had already been settled? This just seems like a second bite at the apple, because the laws where changed allowing for a cancelation of copyright, from creators. Creations as old as Superman should be in the public domain, if anything.

Everyone chimes in with truth, justice, and everything else – but (beyond people who just villify the family), a pragmatic solution has to be suggested. I get it, Warner Brothers is acting evil. I’d quite frankly expect that from a company that big. So the shocked response to a prolonged legal battle doesn’t exactly sway me.

If their lawyer isn’t advising a settlement, then he’s not doing his job. If a settlement isn’t the end game they have in mind – then he REALLY isn’t doing his job. That’s just how I’m seeing it.

With the new movie coming onto people’s radar, courting public opinion is a good tactic, regardless of the ‘rightness’ factor in anyone’s claims.

I’m pretty sure I posted here, and my comment is gone

Leave a Comment

 


Browse the Robot 6 Archives