Robot 6

Superman legal battle isn’t over yet: Siegels try a new strategy

Action Comics #1

Action Comics #1

Despite a January appeals court decision that seemed to signal an end to the nearly decade-long battle for ownership of Superman, the family of co-creator Jerry Siegel still holds out hope for victory over DC Comics.

Overturning a 2008 ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found Jan. 10 that the Siegel heirs had accepted a 2001 offer from DC that permits the publisher to retain all rights to the Man of Steel (as well as Superboy and The Spectre) in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions — and therefore they were barred from reclaiming a portion of the writer’s copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1.

That decision came less than three months after a federal judge determined 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.

However, that January decision sent the case back to federal court in California, where DC filed a motion for summary judgment last month asking for a definitive end to the bitter legal feud. And it’s there the Siegel estate sees a glimmer of hope.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson and attorney Marc Toberoff are attempting a new strategy, arguing not only that the Ninth Circuit didn’t address all of the outstanding issues in the case 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by instead demanding unacceptable new and revised terms as a condition to its performance; accordingly, the Siegels rescinded the agreement, and DC abandoned the agreement.”

In addition, Toberoff wants to reintroduce his belief that the U.S. Copyright Act prohibits the anticipatory transfer of terminated rights through contracts, an argument that’s met with mixed results.

The two parties are already scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright on March 11 on DC’s motion for summary judgment and Toberoff’s motion to dismiss the publisher’s copyright-interference claims.



It’s INSANE that the courts allow this nonsense to keep going on. Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel & all their offspring have gone to court and settled with National/DC/Warner so many times that at this point they should be ashamed. Maybe the first deal wasn’t great, but it was a deal that they signed on for (at the time they were more concerned with getting more work for their studio – which they did – than making it rich off one character out of dozens that they created). When Superman became a success in other media, they sued – settled – and then sued and settled several times. At one point, they even had enough money to open up their own comic book company (which failed). Unlike Kirby and his estate – who I don’t think should regain ownership of the properties he co-created as much as they should get royalties thereof – these guys made deals and then went back for more several times. At this point in my eyes, they’re the scumbags, not DC/Warner.

Bravo, Rob. Not a popular position to defend, but (with the exception that I think the Kirby heirs’ claims are also groundless), I wholeheartedly agree with and commend you.

If someone can’t find something more worthwhile to do with life than dreaming up endless schemes to demand income for an idea one of their relatives had 75 years ago… as you say, they should be ashamed.

Again??? What is wrong with these Greedy “heirs?” Enough! Leave Superman alone already!

At this point it’s hard to feel sympathy for either side.

Now no one is really going to give a hoot and they just showing how greedy the heirs (who contributed zero to the character) are. Eh. Go WB!

Good. DC isn’t right here. DC can keep what they contributed while the heirs can get the character itself.

I can’t see how anyone can take DC’s side in this. Regardless of what maneuvers were made in the past .. the time has run out for DC’s copyright.

No Ken, copyright is maintained through continuous publication. Superman has been trademarked and will never be public domain,

Toberoff is poison. HE’S the reason why DC didn’t “live up to the details of that 2001 deal.” He convinced his naive clients to scrap the deal on their end BEFORE it was finalized. NOW he’s claiming DC didn’t live up to said deal? The cojones on that man!

“No Ken, copyright is maintained through continuous publication. Superman has been trademarked and will never be public domain.”

No, copyright is finite: Congressional interventions aside, all works will eventually fall into the public domain. Trademark is different; it’s sometimes used as a cudgel to discourage the exploitation of public-domain works (see the Burroughs and Doyle estates), but trademark by itself doesn’t keep a work out of the public domain.

Stephen Conway

March 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Toberoff is probably near-bankrupt himself at this stage. He keeps pushing so he can get a cushy multi-million fee for himself to pay off debts.

Ken, you’re not even understanding what you posted. You essentially supported that Superman will and should remain just where he is.

Matt Stephens

March 4, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Rather than juding the family as scumbags -now about spedning some time and read the whole story of events and how time and time again National/DC lied and cheated Jerry & Joe.

Then also read how changes in the copyright law allows them to recapure rights – as Superman was Not “work for hire” but a pre-existing concept which included several weeks of continuity that was repasted as the first story.

Right before Joanne Siegel was to sign the 2001 deal, Toberoff steped in,offered to be their lawyer and made all sorts of promises,etc. for a better deal.

I don’t think the heirs are scumbags but they’re definitely being naive where this case is concerned. And it’s way too easy to paint DC as evil without looking at the bigger picture. Not saying that National wasn’t underhanded when dealing with Siegel & Shuster back in the day but DC has more times than not gone to bat for Jerry, Joe and Joan before Toberoff started this mess. Everyone seems to forget that.

The second Toberoff got the heirs to agree to pursue ownership of Superman, he immediately started setting up companies to run the Superman license with him in COMPLETE control. Not the heirs. HIM. This is extremely unethical and very illegal. He’s supposed to be working for his clients best interests. Not his own. Don’t believe me? Check out Warner’s lawsuit against Toberoff were all his dirty laundry was aired out.

Toberoff is not fighting for “Creator’s Rights” or for the Siegel/Shuster heirs. That’s all just flag-waving to draw attention away from his true goal. Like a comic book villain, he wants control of Superman and he’s not going to let this opportunity slip through his fingers.

nice for after all sigel last wish was super man be back in the family control for kind of doubt they even after the court ruling for dc would just finaly give up till every one is dead besides the copyright act legaly was suppose to transfer the rights to them by now. in fact see the battle going to the u.s supreme court.

The fact of the matter is, Toberoff has sold the heirs a bill of goods while all along attempting to seize control of Superman for himself. He’s a scumbag…a smart silver tongued scumbag. DC/Warner will win, and Toberoff will be back to chasing ambulances.

The loser of all this is the heirs. Letting greed get in the way, and riding the coattails of their family until that cash cow plays itself out. Sad.

Both sides need a hard slap in the face–honestly, they’re acting like the nincompoops in Congress right now!

Brian from Canada

March 4, 2013 at 3:54 pm

It’s easy to take DC’s side in this, Ken.

Both sides admitted that WB/DC had reached a deal with the heirs in 2001 that would see, what would be for that time, adequate compensation for the rights to Superman, Superboy and The Spectre, including a royalty rate for the future.

But that deal was not put fully into writing. Toberoff’s entry into the case comes between verbal agreement and written agreement. He challenged for more control of the rights, but (as was revealed) he would have those rights, not the heirs — and he has already made deals before he had those rights.

The Ninth Court of Appeals saw the verbal agreement as binding. Toberoff is now arguing that, because that deal doesn’t deal with all issues that have risen since (which we know little about), that decision to uphold the 2001 agreement must be ignored — not that those details have a right to be negotiated separately.

DC is not asking to negate an old deal. DC is asking that the deal they made — a deal agreed upon — is the one that should be upheld.

The shame is on Toberoff for convincing the heirs that a deal is not a deal until it’s signed, and that they can get more out of it.

Want to know why there has been no cool new characters created at dc and marvel for the past 20 years?
Creators have figured out they can make tons of more money by not giving new characters to the big two…

@jar what character have creators come up with that are not setup at the big two have come close to generating the amount of popularity as the big two characters other than the walking dead characters.

@The one: If by “big two characters” you mean specifically the most popular ones (Superman, Spider-Man, Batman), then honestly, no one, but if you’re talking the average DC character (Animal Man, Nightwing, etc.) or a random X-Man then there are plenty of famous, popular indie characters: Bone, Hellboy, Cerebus, TMNT, Scott Pilgrim, Tank Girl, Grendel, etc. etc.

You also need to remember that the indies don’t have the advertising budgets the Big Two can handle, so practically all of their popularity has to come from word-of-mouth.

What cool character has a creator at Marvel or DC created since “Gambit”?

Since they actually got the idea for Superman from another writers book I feel….well, none of the family should get crap.

Superman has made DC and other companies hundreds of millions of dollars…
Owen you say the family should not have one penny?
If you were part of the family I’m sure you would change your mind…

Leave a Comment


Browse the Robot 6 Archives