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A federal judge confirmed Wednesday that the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel relinquished any claims to the character in a 2001 agreement with DC Comics. However, that seems unlikely to end the nearly decade-long legal battle over the Man of Steel.
The order by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright III follows the January decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Siegel heirs had accepted a 2001 offer from DC that permits the publisher to retain all rights to Superman (as well as Superboy and The Spectre) in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions — and therefore were barred from reclaiming a portion of the writer’s copyright to Action Comics #1.
Unwilling to give up, Siegel attorney Marc Toberoff introduced a new strategy earlier this month, arguing not only that the Ninth Circuit didn’t settle all of the outstanding issues but that if there was a contract, then DC failed to perform: “DC anticipatorily breached by instead demanding unacceptable new and revised terms as a condition to its performance; accordingly, the Siegels rescinded the agreement, and DC abandoned the agreement.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Wright left it to the Siegels to pursue a breach-of-contract lawsuit in state court, saying, “Because the court finds there was no rescission, acquiescence or abandonment as a matter of law, the contract remains in existence and enforceable.”
However, despite an obvious eagerness to conclude “this chapter of the continuing Superman saga,” the judge noted there remain “lingering issues” regarding Superboy and early promotional ads for Action Comics #1. Wright ordered that DC and the Siegel family file briefs by March 28 addressing how the Ninth Circuit’s ruling affects their respective rights to those works.
He specified that the briefs be no longer than 15 pages and “include a brief proposal for swift resolution of the Superboy and Superman ad issues should the court find that the October 19 agreement does not extend to these works.”
A federal judge determined in October that the 2003 copyright-termination notice filed by the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster was invalidated by a 20-year-old agreement with DC in which the late artist’s sister Jean Peavy relinquished all claims to Superman in exchange “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 Peavy.