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Shuster estate urges appeals court to reverse Superman ruling

From Action Comics #1

From Action Comics #1

If you thought the nearly decade-long legal battle for the rights to the Man of Steel had come to an end last month, think again: On Thursday, the attorney for the Joe Shuster estate asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn an October ruling that the family was prevented from reclaiming the artist’s stake in Superman by a 20-year-old agreement with DC Comics.

At issue is a 1992 deal in which the estate relinquished all claims to the property in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” which included paying Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and providing his sister Jean Peavy and brother Frank Shuster with a $25,000 annual pension. On Oct. 17, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright found that the agreement invalidated a copyright-termination notice filed in 2003 by Shuster’s nephew Mark Peary. Less than three months later, the 9th Circuit overturned a 2008 decision granting the heirs of Jerry Siegel the writer’s 50-percent share of the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1, effectively granting DC full ownership of the character.

But Courthouse News Service reports that on Thursday, the Shuster estate’s attorney Marc Toberoff insisted that Wright “committed clear error” by finding that the one-page pension agreement precluded the family from exercising its termination rights under U.S. copyright law. What’s more, he asserted, Peavy and Frank Shuster had no termination rights to exercise in 1992 because Shuster’s stake in Superman had been assigned to DC in 1938, and the publisher still owned the rights at the time of the pension agreement.

Before the 1998 Copyright Extension Act, termination rights were granted only to an author’s spouse, children or grandchildren, Toberoff said, offering, “Joe Shuster was never married and had no children, so no one held the termination right in 1992.”

He also focused on the wording of the 1992 pension agreement, which didn’t revoke Joe Shuster’s previous grants of copyright to the publisher. “It contains no language of rescission, revocation, cancellation, replacement, or any of its synonyms,” the attorney said. “And given the tremendous value of the Superman franchise, if that was the intent of DC’s lawyers who drafted this simple 1992 pension agreement they would have said so in plain English.”

If that argument sounds familiar, it’s because Toberoff had made a similar one in September before Wright, who initially seemed swayed by the contention that DC never intended the “ambiguous” document to transfer ownership of copyright to “a billion-dollar property.”

DC’s attorney Daniel Petrocelli countered that the 2003 notice was invalid because the Copyright Extension Act only permits heirs to terminate grants of copyright made before 1978: Because Jean Peavy signed the 1992 agreement, there were no rights to be terminated in 2003.

“Whether or not you have a termination right doesn’t depend on anybody’s intention – whether you’re intending to preserve something, or intending to extinguish something,” he told the three-judge panel. “It depends on the date of the grant, and the legal relationship between the people who are doing this.”

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Comments

12 Comments

Toberoff.

Again.

Time to give it up. They signed it away.

even though sadly the estates are fighting a losing battle for even if the u.s supreme court steps in the thing in the end. dc and time warners will no matter what wind up with the copyright of super man in the end. some how . even if some new judge rules the estates can under copyright law in the end have their rights to super man back.

Brian from Canada

May 24, 2013 at 10:17 am

Toberoff will keep hammering away until he gets it or he’s dead.

The reality is that, while Toberoff’s initial argument *was* persuasive, DC/WB have never been shown to be acting out of good faith. The initial purchase was a gamble, they rectified it with a number of payoffs over the years, and fully expected that the 1992 and subsequent deals would stand for the remainder of the character’s life.

It’s the heirs that have come back to the company time and time again. And just because their lawyer says the deal wasn’t good doesn’t mean it wasn’t a lot more than they should have gotten — just look at Bill Finger, who will never get credit for Batman.

Yup this whole thing has long passed the point of absurdity.

The law is clear–no direct heir, no compensation. End of Story.

“The law is clear–no direct heir, no compensation. End of Story.”

What law are you talking about?

Its just the real winners of every legal battle, the lawyers, egging them on so they can keep collecting their paychecks.

Good point by Toberoff.

DC has done enough. In 100 years are they still going to be expected to be be giving handouts? Enoughs enough, nobody forced them to make the deals with DC.

Brock, in some ways DC will never do enough, with all the money the characters do make from licensing. But at the same time, the heirs have to stop trying to come back to the well. Everytime they do, they take the checks that DC gives them. You’ve excepted how it is, stop trying to change the rules again every couple of years.

And if you signed the contracts, and DC has the copies, they’re legally binding! Ask Alan Moore about that.

Sigh… This Toberoff guy just keeps going at it, he’s a persistent one.
And while I’m sure that DC/WB has screwed over the creators of Superman as well as many others just like big companies often do I think it’s about time they let it go, the creators are already dead and these people now fighting for the rights don’t have any in the first place. They weren’t the ones who created Supes but still they want to gain from it! Sure if Siegel and shuster hadn’t sold the rights then thes people would have inhereted them but unfortunately they DID sell the rights! End of story, these people need to be happy with what they’ve already gotten and not try to get money for something that some relative of theirs came up with.

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