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DC and Siegel heirs face off in appeal of Superman copyright case

From Action Comics #1

The 9th Circuit heard two appeals Tuesday that could decide the bitter 15-year-old legal battle for control of the Man of Steel.

An attorney for DC Comics asked the three-judge panel to reverse a 2008 decision granting the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel his portion of the copyright to Action Comics #1, arguing the family is reneging on a 2001 agreement that would have ensured the company’s ownership of the billion-dollar property.

DC has long argued that Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson walked away from a settlement deal that would’ve allowed the company to retain all rights to Superman in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions. The publisher claims the heirs only withdrew from the settlement after attorney Marc Toberoff entered the picture, falsely asserting he had a $15 million offer for the rights from a billionaire investor (alleged to be Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel). However, a federal judge determined in 2008 that, without a formalized contract, there was no agreement.

According to Law360, Toberoff told the court on Tuesday that while both sides “had a deal in principle,” there was no “meeting of the minds” and, therefore, no binding contract. When judges Sidney R. Thomas and Stephen R. Reinhardt referred to an Oct. 19, 2001 letter from Larson’s then-attorney stating she “accepted DC Comics’ offer,” Toberoff countered that “the publisher cannot point to an acceptance of the terms of the Oct. 19 letter.”

Businessweek reports that DC’s lead outside counsel Daniel Petrocelli told the panel that, “at the very minimum,” his client is entitled to a trial regarding whether the two parties had an agreement. “This has the potential to dispose of the entire dispute,” he said. If the contract is found to be valid, Petrocelli asserted DC would immediately pay Larson $20 million in exchange for Siegel’s share of the Superman copyright.

In the second case, Toberoff urged the court to dismiss DC’s 2010 lawsuit accusing him of orchestrating “a web of collusive agreements” that led the Siegel and Shuster families to reject “mutually beneficial” longtime deals with DC and seek to recapture copyright to the Man of Steel. Last year Toberoff failed to convince a federal judge to reject the claim under California’s anti-SLAPP law designed to curb lawsuits intended to intimidate the opposition through delays and legal expense.

DC’s lawyers argued that Toberoff’s actions aren’t protected by free speech because he wasn’t acting as an attorney, but rather as a “Hollywood businessman,” and that the $15 million offer for the Superman rights was fraudulent.

Tuesday’s hearing arrived less than three weeks after a federal judge ruled the Shuster estate surrendered the ability to reclaim its 50-percent interest in the Man of Steel in a 1992 agreement with DC. That leaves the publisher and the Siegel heirs sharing ownership of the property — dependent, of course, on the outcome of this case and a likely appeal in the Shuster decision.

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6 Comments

“DC would immediately pay Larson $20 million in exchange for Siegel’s share of the Superman copyright.”

Which simply isn’t enough, if that’s a flat single payment. Their original (well, latest) agreement had a contingent clause – if that isn’t part of it now, DC will once again make out like thieves.

There is no character like Superman, and no case similar to it in scope. Giving the heirs an outrageously generous deal will not, IMHO, set a precedent. Make the deal, and put this behind everybody.

I see Toberoff as the bad guy here, and that’s it. The heirs are morally due to wet their beak, if perhaps not legally. Toberoff is a shark who wants to get HIS hands on the character and take as much control of it as DC had.

Laura Siegel Larson walked away from a settlement deal that would’ve allowed the company to retain all rights to Superman in exchange for $3 million? That means the deal didn’t go through.In other words Dc comics have no ground to stand on with the argument that even if she walked out before the deal was sealed, they still retain her portion of the Superman copyrights.

It’s like with any business deal.If your client walks out on a business venture after saying that they were interested in signing a deal with your company but suddenly had a change of heart, you can’t say that the deal went through, then take them to court hoping that a judge will say that they verbally agreed so even if no paper were signed the company wins the case.

There is no way Dc comics is going to win on an argument like that.I’d understand if the Siegel family did sign a new deal making it all legal, then the judgement would go their way but not like this.The way things work in the business world, with a corporate giant company and the hard working folks out there is usually sealed with a signed document and not word of mouth deals.

As humans we always have a change of heart now and again.It happened in this case with Dc comics and the Siegel heirs.The Siegels had a change of heart and walked out before any ink could touch paper thus sealing the deal for Dc comics.They had a better argument with the Shuster family signing documents giving up their rights then they do with the Siegel heirs.

At the end of the day the Siegel heirs will retain their %50 percent Superman copyrights.

Even the federal judge determined in 2008 that, without a formalized contract, there was no agreement..Dc comics you need a signed contract!! Without one, you have no leg to stand on.

dc and time warner should just do the right thing and work out an agreement with the siegel and shuster for if laura did walk out of an offer for their share for 3 million then dc can not claim they made the deal and she gave up the rights for no contract signed means no deal. besides dc should really share the money they are making off of superman with the ones who created him instead of trying to get all the loot and leave the ones who with out their creativitiy super man would not exist. or just make a nice offer to buy the rights to superman once and for all

I don’t think DC’s claim isn’t that Larson simply rejected their 2001 offer; it’s that Larson had actually agreed, and that Toberoff tortiously interfered with that agreement. Flat rejection of a settlement offer isn’t the same thing as acceptance and repudiation of a settlement offer. So if there *was* an agreement in 2001, then it arguably superseded the creators’ 1938 grant and extinguished their termination right, notwithstanding Toberoff’s derailment and whether or not it was in writing.

It’s not a great argument, but it’s something. It’s the same thing that just worked in district court with respect to Shuster’s termination right, only there the parties indisputably had a some agreement. It was the scope of the agreement that was at issue for Shuster.

I see the Siegel heirs maintaining their effective termination on appeal. Meanwhile, the Shuster camp will likely lose any possible appeal.

WHY? What was the secret of the wheel-chair superman?

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