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Judge confirms Superman belongs to DC Comics

Superman Unchained #1

Superman Unchained #1

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by instead demanding unacceptable new and revised terms as a condition to its performance; accordingly, the Siegels rescinded the agreement, and DC abandoned the agreement.”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.

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Comments

27 Comments

ok soooo does this mean the JLA movie now is a-go?

Simon DelMonte

March 22, 2013 at 7:35 am

This is not a comment about who is right in the moral sense.

But isn’t it about time the courts just said “we’ve made this decision over and over, please stop suing”?

(Never mind that under old copyright laws, NO ONE would own Superman anymore.)

Yup enough of this.

“But isn’t it about time the courts just said “we’ve made this decision over and over, please stop suing”?”

Except that the courts didn’t make the decision over and over: A judge ruled in 2008 that the Siegel family had successfully recaptured a portion of the rights to the story in Action Comics #1. DC appealed, which is what the Ninth Circuit’s January decision was about. This ruling (mostly) is in response to a motion by DC saying, effectively, “Can we now declare this thing finished?”

DC may be a souless corporate entitity, but this Toberoff guy is not much different (IMO)

For decades Siegal & Shuster (or related parties) have made deals with DC. They may not have been great deals or even good deals but they were deals. Then they cry because they no longer want the current deal and ask for more. Why should DC continue to go back to the table with these people when in another 5 to 10 years, Toberoff or a lawyer like him will just talk some family member to go back to court to try to change the deal?

I do some work in Federal law. Trust me when I say, “It’s never over.” At least these people have a lawyer–I deal with a number of people who sue without representation, and they’re just smart enought to find some nugget of the law to keep themselves in court (even though there’s no merit to the case).

I don’t think there’s many legal provisions to block a person from filing a lawsuit, or an appeal. The right to be heard in court is a fundamental part of the American justice system. The only way you can deal with it is to confront each issue on the merits and hope the other side gets tired of it.

Adam, you just described what practising the “Law” is–looking for nuggets to stall, bankrupt your adversary, and ultimately win by any means necessary. Even if the case is “unwinnable,” an eager attorney (smart layperson) or an attorney bankrolled by near limitless cash, can make it winnable.

The Superman litigation is itself a story–should be treated like Dickens’s Bleak House.

I won’t comment on the legal complexities here. It’s way beyond me. But DC really should just give up the rights to Superman. They clearly have no idea what to do with the character. Frankly, the best thing that could happen for Superman (the character, not his owners, not his creators, not his creators’ heirs) is for him to enter the public domain. Imagine the incredible stories that could be told without corporate interference. Maybe someday…

I bet they went to cash their 3 million dollar check and hadnt realized 99% of it was going to the lawyers. WE NEEDS MOAR MONIEZ they yell as the lawyers salivate.

How are these not nuisance suits?

“Wright left it to the Siegels to pursue a breach-of-contract lawsuit in state court.”

There was no breach of contract. When the Siegels decided to not sign the deal they had already agreed to, DC/Warners didn’t pay because it was being litigated once again thanks to Toberoff. Why pay money out IF they didn’t need to? If they stop suing, they’d get the money they were offered….

What a waste of time to go to the Justice Court when it is possible to have a “Gentlemen Agreement” signed which benefits to the two parties…

Anyway, it’s not a lost time for the lawyers: a very well paid job… I hope that they pay their taxes too…

When will this stop? It’s nauseating, really.

Adam,

“I do some work in Federal law.”

Really? While I can’t be sure you aren’t a practicing attorney, that’s just about the most non-lawlerly thing I’ve ever seen a lawyer write. As an attorney, you don’t “do . . Federal law.” The law is divided generally into subject areas, e.g., franchise law, domestic relations, etc., with only a few areas exclusively federal in nature. As to these areas, no practicing attorney would ever represent him or herself as a federal law lawyer — you’d be an intellectual property lawyer, a lawyer exercising in maritime law, etc.

“I don’t think there’s many legal provisions to block a person from filing a lawsuit, or an appeal.”

Actually, there’s none, generally, except where a litigant is required to provide notice of suit, either as an administrative issue or where a pro se plaintiff who routinely files frivolous lawsuits (and these do exist, in every federal district) is required to get clearance from the district court first. I dealt with this kind of litigant in a case years ago, and it happens. You can, however, be subject to sanctions for filing a frivolous action under Federal Rule 11 or a state analog, depending on what court you’re in.

you practice in federal court.

That’s the thing, Warner’s is ready to give the Siegels EVERYTHING under the terms of the last contract, even if they didn’t sign.

Right now in some Escrow account is millions and millions or dollars for the Segels.

What I find interesting the the little stuff, like Superman’s pre-Action 1 ad apparances.

Also, I’ve seen some mention eslewhere of Siegel’s interest in THE SPECTER which he co-created, but I thought that like his other post-Superman creations was work for hire?

Will someone just end this stupid thing already?

Hear me, DC and the heirs: CO-OWN or GO HOME!!! THIS I COMMAND!!!!

“What I find interesting the the little stuff, like Superman’s pre-Action 1 ad apparances.”

The promo ads were one of the stranger aspects of the 2008 ruling, with Judge Larson deciding that DC owned the iconic cover image of Action Comics #1 and the right “to exploit the image of a person with extraordinary strength who wears a black and white leotard and cape.” However, I’m not sure what that matters now, if the 2001 agreement is enforceable and the Siegels have no claim to Superman.

As for The Spectre: I’m only guessing, as I too was under the impression until fairly recently that the character and Slam Bradley fell squarely within “work for hire,” but DC’s records from the era may be a bit shoddy when it comes to lower-tier properties. Therefore, The Spectre may have been thrown into the overall deal just to clear up any potential rights murkiness. Again, just guessing.

A legal agreement and “$3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions” isn’t enough? Geez…relax and go enjoy your money.

Contrast this with Pete Marston, the son of the creator of Wonder Woman. DC did not own Wonder Woman outright, so they approached Pete Marston with an offer. Negotiations were private, to this day no onbe knows the terms. But his daughter has hinted that they did very well indeed. That’s how you handle this sort of situation.

The Superman ‘heirs’ have dragged this into the public eye, which was unwise. I’m sure they were banking on public support, but at this point, who could support them? They’re just greedy and unreasonable.

Work-for-hire is hard to prove. DC has signed agreements with almost all surviving golden age creators to retain the rights to characters which might have been contested. They probably threw in the Spectre under the same theory they followed with Aquaman and Green Lantern. Although its also possible Siegel actually had a better contract by that point. The picture of Siegel as “idiot savant” who got rolled by Liebowitz is not totally true. He renegotiated that early deal and got paid a salary and royalties all through the forties as well as receiving almost all the money from the newspaper strip. His big mistake was demanding creative control. That was too much for DC to take.

Brian from Canada

March 22, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Marston wasn’t the only one who signed a deal quietly. Joe Simon settled with Marvel over Captain America, and while he doesn’t talk about it, he doesn’t speak bitterly about the company either.

The problem with the Superman creators is that they were the first, it went beyond their imagination, and they were very public about how much they weren’t getting from the movie in 1978. In fact, fans threatened to boycott unless the original creators were given mention in the movie credits, something that was relatively unheard of in those days.

The fact DC continues to try new things with Superman that they don’t automatically get a paycheck for makes all the things worse.

For me, the real issue here is whether the pre-Toberoff deal was done in bad faith. Toberoff aside, neither side really claims it was. They both seemed pretty happy with it until Toberoff convinced the heirs that they were getting screwed.

That’s what the judge seems to be focused on: it was a fair agreement. Some things were missed, and he points that out. But Toberoff — who, incidentally, will own the merchandising rights to Superman as a result of this case if he wins — continues to push the idea that WB is out to keep what wasn’t theirs to begin with.

Toberoff never mentions a deal. There’s never been mention of potential settlement. It’s all about getting the millions WB earned to the heirs of the creators who never foresaw this problem back when the original contracts were signed.

By that same token, then, there’s going to be a whole lotta suing going on, as the musicians of the 50s and 60s start claiming they were screwed by the record companies over their work too.

Man just stop being so greedy!!

Bronze Age Baby-68

March 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm

This will NEVER end. ;(

James Sotcheff

March 22, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Seems like the Aunt that took the 600,00.00 is the one who screwed the rest of the family.

Now it be the best time to ditch that leach Toberoff.

one would think that after managing to get the court to rule in their favor dc would then make peace and work out a nice over due settlement with the estates compensating them for some over due royalties. since dc rejected superman and then published him without compensating the creators or just work a settlement and accept that until the thing winds up with the u.s supreme court saying sadly the estates did give up claims to the copyright to superman once and for all just make some peace and stop the legal fight. plus since when did the spectre become another part of the super man drama?

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