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‘This case is by no means over,’ vows lawyer in Superman battle

From Action Comics #1

From Action Comics #1

Despite a series of seemingly definitive decisions in DC Comics’ favor, the nearly decade-long legal fight over the rights to Superman continues, with the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster asking an appeals court just three weeks ago to overturn a ruling barring the family from reclaiming the artist’s stake in the Man of Steel. At the center of the battle is tenacious and controversial attorney Marc Toberoff, the longtime nemesis of Warner Bros. who represents the heirs of Shuster and his collaborator Jerry Siegel.

He’s the subject of a lengthy feature in the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, in which he pledges he’ll take the Superman dispute to the Supreme Court, if necessary. “This case is by no means over,” he tells the magazine. “My clients and I are prepared to go the distance.” It’s an interesting article that’s part history lesson and part personality profile, with several tidbits (of varying importance) that I can’t recall seeing previously:

• Toberoff is charging the Siegel family a 30 percent contingency fee, but Laura Siegel Larson points out that “He has not made a penny out of this.” He won’t say how much he’s spent on the case.

• The attorney and his children barely escaped a 2007 wildfire that destroyed his Malibu home and all of his possessions; he appeared in court in a hoodie and sweatpants until he could buy a new wardrobe. He also survived a near-fatal car accident that same year while on his way to a deposition in Philadelphia: Although his car was crashed, trapping him within, “Toberoff snacked on half a sandwich in his briefcase awaiting the police. He made the deposition on schedule.”

• While I knew that Toberoff’s movie-making interests became a point of contention in the Superman case — he and the Shusters set up a joint venture in 2001 that would’ve given his Pacific Pictures half of the family’s character rights — I hadn’t realized he was a producer on such films as My Favorite Martian, Black Irish, Bottle Shock and 2010′s Pirahna.

• Toberoff acknowledges it was “a mistake” for him and Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel to approach the Siegels in 2002 with an offer to license their Superman rights for $15 million. (They said no, and he later dissolved the joint venture with the Shusters.)

• Mark Warren Peary, Shuster’s nephew and the executor of his estate, is the author of The Ten Biggest Diet Myths and Greatest Health Secrets Revealed.

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Comments

19 Comments

yup Toberoff should F off

good for Toberoff to not let this fight die for hope he takes the battle all the way to the u.s supreme court even though sadly in the end warner’s and dc is going to wind up with superman for good or keep the thing tied up in appeals and bankrupt siegel and shuster. . and from all that has happen to toberoff looks like he can now be added to the so called super man cure.

Rollo Tomassi

June 13, 2013 at 9:32 am

“Dear DC and WB,

Thanks for shepherding this property for the last 75 years. Thanks for bearing the 100% of the financial risk on every comic, cartoon, TV, and film venture. Thank you to all the tireless editorial staff who spent sleepless nights making sure the next issue made it to the printer for decades upon decades. Thank you immensely for making this property into the icon it is today.

Now that you’ve done all the heavy lifting…hand it over.

Sincerely,
Mark “Asshat” Toberoff, Esq. “

I know this opinion we be unpopular but on this rare occasion I support DC.

Shuster & Siegel shopped the character for years being turned down by multiple publishers. When they sold it to DC (and agreed to give up rights to the character) they got a good deal from DC. The money wasn’t great but they also received a 10 year contract (which is more than some individuals get today when they give up their properties/business). It also seems DC would have kept them employed had it not been for the legal action from the two.

Please correct me if I’m wrong but did DC mislead these guys? From the way it seems to me they agreed on deal and wanted a better one when the character became popular. IMO DC owes them absolutely nothing if this is the case. Would it be nice if DC shared the wealth? Yes. But it seems the relationship between DC/Shuster & Siegel deteriorated because of the legal action. If not I get them impression these two would had been paraded much like Stan Lee is today.

Maybe this lawyer should try and help Bill Finger’s loved ones get some recompense instead. At least that case would have the backing of the people.

Would love to see the Supreme Court rule on this. It would be important to a large number of creators of valuable IP and their heirs who ended up getting screwed. I mean, two things can happen ..

1. The Supreme Court rules in favor of the creators (and their heirs) getting the return of the IP rights as we thought the law meant. Saving future creators from all the legal expenses and stress of trying to get back what the law says is theirs after the passage of a certain amount of time.

2. The Supreme Court rules in favor of the current corporate owners, showing that the return of IP rights to the creators after a period of years will never happen .. and it will save the creators and their heirs a lot of legal expense and stress from trying to get what the current law says is theirs.

As far as those who come into this type of news with versions of “yaaaay big corporation .. screw the creators and their family” .. they don’t even understand what this is about.

Brian from Canada

June 13, 2013 at 10:34 am

You’re not wrong, Rob. In fact, a deal was renegotiated once Superman became a success. A new deal was struck in the 70s when fans objected to the lack of credit in the feature film. Then another deal was struck in 2001 right before Toberoff got involved.

If anything, DC’s **one** era of looking bad was right before the movie — and they came back strong, putting a credit on the comics too.

Your opinion may be unpopular with some, but not to me. I think DC’s in the right, here, especially after the revelation that a deal had been agreed to in principle before Toberoff got involved… and it was revealed Toberoff was licensing Superman as his own property before the decision was made.

The only thing that makes it worse is that Toberoff now represents the Kirbys as well.

He’s done. Now he’s just posturing. Give it up, you lost. And to the family…You people didn’t do anything. You deserve nothing. If Shuster and Siegal were alive today that MIGHT mean something but their not. Now they’re all just coming off as whiney annoyances.

DC is 99% right here. They purchased the rights and have time and time again compensated people for it. Nobody made them sell the rights to DC. The fact that tax money is spent on these FRIVOLOUS suits is a shame.

How about BOTH SIDES ARE COMPLETELY WRONG ABOUT ALL OF THIS! There’s only one solution to this stupid dilemma–CO-OWN OR GO HOME!

This case has nothing to do with creator’s rights. This case is about a greedy lawyer trying to gain control of a lucrative IP. Toberoff is a leech.

“And to the family…You deserve nothing. If Shuster and Siegal were alive today that MIGHT mean something but their not. Now they’re all just coming off as whiney annoyances.”

By that logic, “since corporations are people” according to your fellow Republican Mitt Romney, Time Warner is the grandchild (or great-grandchild, or niece/nephew) of National Allied Publications, the company that bought Superman from Siegel & Schuster and is just a “whiney annoyance”.
National Allied Publications (nor any of their employees from that era) doesn’t exist anymore.

Acer has the right idea.
Share.

This guy sounds like the sort of player that the casinos love to see walk in the door — the one who keeps throwing more money in every time he loses because “all he needs is that ONE win to get even, and then it’s ALL GRAVY, baby!”

This battle is going to rage for the next 100 years I’m sure.

Oh no buddy it’s so over, as in over and out, and over the hill, and over and over, and I bet you think this love song’s about you. It isn’t. It’s over.

I never said I was a Republican. I’m just tired of this crap and the more they protest the more obvious it becomes that the family could give a rat’s ass about the character of Superman. They just want a quick payday. Say what you want about DC and their owners but they’ve put the work in. They’ve cultivated the franchise. They deserve the money. I stand by my claim, the family deserves nothing and it looks like they will get nothing…so, bravo.

Nobody’s mentioned that Superman should have entered into the public domain in 1994 yet?

Well, let me toss THAT little point out there.

Whatever your thoughts on DC, Warner, Siegel and his family, Shuster and his family, Toberoff…at this point, Superman’s rightful owners are US. You, me, everybody.

He was created at a time when copyrights lasted 56 years. His copyright should have expired. He should be public domain, just like Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Cthulhu, and the Wizard of Oz.

You can talk about the contracts Siegel and Shuster signed to give up their rights to Superman. But I never signed anything to give up MY rights to him, as a member of the public. Did you? (Well, I guess you might have — if you voted for Sonny Bono.)

You can talk about what terms National/DC did or did not adhere to in the original agreement — but they sure as hell didn’t adhere to the term of copyright they agreed to.

And seeing as the copyright on the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons is set to expire in 2024, it won’t be long before we see Big Media lobbying for another extension.

You know, the publishers sure like talking about how copyright infringement is a form of theft. What d’you suppose it is when they bribe Congress to delay their obligation to the public and maintain their (temporary, according to the Constitution) monopoly on the ideas of people who died decades ago?

(Tangentially: speaking of Warner plundering from the public domain, here’s a story about a film company’s class action suit to have courts declare that Happy Birthday is public domain and Warner Music has been illegally shaking people down for licensing fees for decades:

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130613/11165823451/filmmaker-finally-aims-to-get-court-to-admit-that-happy-birthday-is-public-domain.shtml
)

Toberoff’s main “contribution” to this matter is screwing everyone up just so he can have a bigger shot at the pie.

Recall that prior to Toberoff’s involvement DC was ready, willing, and able to settle, generously, with the heirs with benefits they would have seen in their lifetimes at a cost DC was willing to accept. Toberoff interjected himself into the situation and upset the settlement such that the cost was beyond what DC could accept (consider, the amount demanded would have to outstrip the initial settlement by enough for the heirs to feel all this litigation and delay was worth it PLUS Toberoff’s 30% cut PLUS the legal fees they’d incur through this fight… simply put, Toberoff’s demands were outrageous and could NEVER lead to settlement, the manner in which 99.9% of litigation is resolved).

Even when they were in the best possible bargaining position after his absurd preliminary victory (where Judge Larson has gone on record his decision wasn’t meant to create jurisprudence but to force the parties to the settlement table; you may recall his decision tried to piecemeal Superman’s elements) Toberoff would not accept reasonable offers but continued to force DC’s hand- and ultimately the court’s hand.

That action is why DC had a viable case against Toberoff for sanctions which he narrowly escaped only because there’s a high burden on such professional sanctions (the profession preferring to assume all attorney’s are ethical)… the amusing thing is that Toberoff escaped sanction by refusing to provide evidence that would have lead to that conclusion. The judge in his matter said he was “deeply troubled” by Toberoff’s behavior but determined there was “no deliberate attempt to mislead.”

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