Robot 6

DC wins ‘final’ appeal in long battle over Superman rights

Action Comics #1Although the attorney representing the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had vowed they were “prepared to go the distance” in their legal battle with DC Comics, they appear to have reached the end of the road. Of course, that’s been said a few times before.

As Deadline reports, in a 2-1 vote the Ninth Circuit on Thursday tied up the loose ends in what it describes as “the long-running saga regarding the ownership of copyrights in Superman — a story almost as old as the Man of Steel himself,” reaffirming an October 2012 ruling that the Shuster estate is prevented from reclaiming the artist’s stake in the character by a 20-year-old agreement with DC.

“We are obviously very pleased with the court’s decision,” DC’s parent company Warner Bros. said in a statement.

That lower-court decision, which was appealed in May, dealt with a 1992 deal in which the Shuster estate relinquished all claims to Superman 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. In October, 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 Ninth Circuit overturned a 2008 decision that granted the Seigel heirs his 50-percent share of the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1, effectively giving DC full ownership of the character. That was followed in April by Wright’s ruling that Superboy also belongs to the publisher, an issue left unresolved by the appeals court’s decision.

However, attorney Marc Toberoff insisted the judge “committed clear error” in the matter of the Shuster estate’s 1992 deal 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.

In his dissent on Thursday, Judge Sidney Runyan Thomas agreed, at least in part, noting that because Shuster’s estate hadn’t entered probate at the time of the 1992 agreement, neither the artist’s sister nor brother had the authority to “dispose of Joe’s copyright interests.”

The next step could be a request for a hearing before the Ninth Circuit’s full bench, but Toberoff has expressed a willingness to take the battle to the Supreme Court. However, it’s likely the three-judge panel was the final fight for the Shusters.

For the Siegel family, there’s still a possibility of breach-of-contract claims against DC, although even that may run afoul of statute of limitations. After the Ninth Court in January found they had indeed accepted a multimillion-dollar offer in 2001 from DC, the heirs tried a new strategy: If there was an agreement — it called for the publisher to retain all rights to Superman (and Superboy and The Spectre) in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions — then DC had failed to perform. (That explains the recent addition of the line “By Special Arrangement with the Jerry Siegel Family” to the credits of any DC title featuring Superman, a stipulation of the 2001 agreement. ROBOT 6 contributor Tom Bondurant also noted that Superboy is now “created by Jerry Siegel,” while Supergirl is “based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.”)

But Judge Wright asserted, on at least two occasions, that any contract dispute that might arise is a matter for state, not federal, courts.

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15 Comments

this ruling means nothing for siegels estate vowed to get superman back. for odds are toieben files another appeal and takes the battle maybe some day all the way to the u.s supreme court. for the fight is not going to end till the estates finaly give up and accept dc and warners have superman for good not them .

Good. They will need the money to pay for the loss for stealing the scripts for the Matrix, Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions. https://www.facebook.com/notes/tom-ficklin/black-author-wins-the-matrix-copyright-infringement-case/363736952666

Charles J. Baserap

November 22, 2013 at 8:45 am

No, they won’t need any such money because the Matrix story is total bunk: http://www.examiner.com/article/debunked-sophia-stewart-vs-the-matrix-story-still-circulates-web

Yeah that story about the Matrix is really old. http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/matrix.asp

CO-OWN OR GO HOME, IDJITS!!!!

Brian from Canada

November 22, 2013 at 10:09 am

The real sad part is that Joe’s royalties from the character are much smaller than Jerry’s — at one point, the Siegels were taking payment for managing Joe’s financial affairs in this matter.

If WB/DC were smart, they’d give BOTH families the same 2001 deal with a small added incentive (like full credits, guaranteed royalties from feature films, etc.). Toberoff wouldn’t be happy, but fans would be.

Honestly, part of me would like to see the WB settle… but only if Toberoff is legally barred from getting one red cent. He’s just too shady…

This is about bad lawyers taking this family for a ride. Once you sell out, you’re out.

While I prefer Superman at DC, DC comics treated the Siegels and Shusters really poorly. Also, the fact they barely pay them anything for works that make millions for DC is a joke. On the otherhand, Superman would not be here were it not for DC and the millions it put in.

the 1938 version of superman was NOT published after 1943…as in 1944 he started flying, and got more vision powers. U.S. federal “public domain” laws are clear: the original leaping version has to be re published in a new work/episode every 28 years for it to maintain “copyright”. which the original version was never published again, as the new 52 leaping version also displayed heat vision. something the original never had. meaning the original leaping superman is public domain already.

by federal laws the heirs are legally seen as the creators in the unfortunate event of the creators being deceased. in the eyes of federal law, they are seen as the creators. this goes down to several great greats in the lineage. they deserve the 1938 powerset version of superman back. warner should rename their overpowered version, and create a different character.

Brian from Canada

November 23, 2013 at 11:43 am

@Acmc:

Read SUPER BOYS. Siegel and Shuster weren’t treated poorly in the beginning. When Superman was a hit, they were given an increased payment and were making quite a decent wage for DC while losing out on royalties up until they decided to sue DC in the 40s over the character. Then their jobs at DC ended.

Because of no credits on the page, and the reduction in comics, neither was able to keep up the same level of work. Shuster ended up drawing images for underground porno mags in the 50s. Siegel only went back to DC at his wife’s urging, and because of that he was able to get enough recognition of the abuse that comic creators came to their aid.

They negotiated a much larger settlement in the 70s when Shuster was selling off personal possessions for rent. They got a PERPETUAL ROYALTY (i.e., salary) and it was enough by those days’ standards to live comfortably on. Siegel continued to work in comics; Shuster was blind and couldn’t. Shuster’s money, incidentally, was managed by the Siegels until the Peavys stepped forward, which is why Jerry earned way more than Joe.

And the royalty was increased again later when the copyright law was changed. If you look at the deals on the table, it’s not megamillions like WB made off Superman, but it’s still a lot for a few years’ work decades ago.

Brian,

There’s still a lot of sadness in the story.

Siegel and Shuster were definitely the brains behind Superman for that first decade of life of the character.
I’m sorry, but Harry Donenfeld and Larry Liebowitz did NOT create the character but they sure as heck marketed the hell out of him AND denied the Siegel and Shuster workshop their due of royalties on all the merchandizing and movie deals they made with Superman.

That’s the crux of the situation.
D and L LIED multiple lies and broke their word more than you count. I think that’s obvious from all the stories and letters that have been saved.
Siegel and Shuster WERE bullied and duped into signing poor contracts.

Legal systems are generally a joke when it comes to dealing on “Fair.”
They are so beholden to corporations and bend over backwards to accommodate them that it’s ridiculous to use words like “justice” and “law” together.
I am as far from flaming liberal as many people can imagine but it has to be said that I’ve seen bad things come to good people from legal judgments far more often than should be. People get TOO hung up on the -R and -D labels behind names and not paying attention to the judgments of lawyers! It’s amazing how much the average person has been let go to “dry on the wall” by the judicial system.

I don’t believe money is infinite, either, but there certainly could have been a much happier ending for this case decades earlier if the principals at DC/National/WB hadn’t been such control freaks.

Honestly, DC/WB isn’t doing such a hot job with Superman nowadays. I barely recognize anything left of the character from when I was a kid! The behavior and mannerism is near 180-degrees different than the more innocent, concerned with doing the right thing character Siegel and Shuster created. That guy existed up until the early 21st century. They definitely began the process of “cleaning out” the traditional Superman by Infinite Crisis at the latest. The last Superman story I read that I can definitely say WAS Superman was “All-Star Superman.”

Going by what is going on with the characters now, it might not have been the worst thing in the world IF the S & S heirs had gotten the rights back to the characters! Nobody can do worse by Superman than what DC is doing now…

That’s not saying Toberoff isn’t greedy or an opportunist. I think the only Siegel that was street-smart in this case was Michael Siegel, the son of Jerry. Many of us following the case even only occasionally felt that Toberoff was not the knight in shining armor he’d like people to believe he is. He’s said all along he’s in law to make money, and there’s no question Superman was a potential big Christmas goose/gift for his firm. I do believe Michael Siegel was warning his half-sister Laura not to get involved with Toberoff. When people make deals that are too good to be true…!

I read Super Boys, too… It’s really all such a sad story. It’s bittersweet at best. The most they really got in the end — and the bare minimum they SHOULD have gotten — was the “Created Byline” in the comics. That’s still more than most other creators get. Even Jack Kirby only gets a “byline” on certain creations of his. Only Bob Kane (Batman) and William Marston (Wonder Woman) get full byline credits, too.

I don’t know when DC first added it but Paul Norris has a “created by” line on the New 52 Aquaman books.

First, I think the creators deserved to be treated better by the company they basically helped buld. That being said:

George C – “Siegel and Shuster WERE bullied and duped into signing poor contracts.”

However, lawyers existed when they signed every agreement. And they were adults in all those instances as well. (Yes, 18 years of age is awfully young, but an 18-year-old from 1938 is more or less equivalent to someone in their late 20s today).

Beyond which, nobody forced them to do anything. They willingly signed agreements and settlements. When you sign a contract, you should be looking out for your own best interest. Let’s not invent conspiracies and evade where the blame truly lies here – the fault for willingly signing a bad deal falls to the person who signs.

And actually, the truth is that they were very happy in the 1940s with DC. They were doing very well financially – being paid $75K per year each – the equivalent of a million dollars a year today. Where it all went downhill was over Superboy. And certainly, they created Superboy and deserved ownership and/or compensation. DC handled that awfully. But at that point – do you sue your employer and lose your lucrative salary in the hope of a bigger payday in court?

That’s an awfully big gamble. Perhaps they made the wrong decision there.

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