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Appeals court denies Shuster heirs rehearing in Superman battle

From Action Comics #1

From Action Comics #1

In the latest — and, quite possibly, final — legal blow to the estate of Joe Shuster, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a petition for a rehearing of its November decision that effectively brought to an end what a three-judge panel described as “the long-running saga regarding the ownership of copyrights in Superman — a story almost as old as the Man of Steel himself.”

Deadline reports that the one-page order closes the door to any more petitions for rehearing before the Ninth Circuit, leaving the Supreme Court as the only option left to attorney Marc Toberoff, who last year pledged, “My clients and I are prepared to go the distance.”

In a 2-1 finding in November, the Ninth Circuit panel reaffirmed an October 2012 ruling that the Shuster estate is prevented from reclaiming the artist’s stake in Superman by a 20-year-old agreement with DC Comics. That lower-court decision dealt with a 1992 agreement in which the Shuster estate relinquished all claims to the Man of Steel 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. U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright had found the agreement invalidated a copyright-termination notice filed in 2003 by Shuster’s nephew Mark Peary.

The October 2012 decision was the first of twin, seemingly fatal, blows in the battle by the creators’ families for the Superman rights: Less than three months later, the Ninth Circuit overturned a 2008 decision that granted the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel 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.

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17 Comments

Toberoff has already filed an appeal with the producers of People’s Court, Judge Joe Brown and Judge Judy.

Thank goodness that’s over with.

I would be really surprised if the Supreme Court would even hear this case. they ahve a tendency to side on the side of corporations,particularly in patent and Copyright cases.

And… it’s about time. Creators are one thing, the children of such, or in the case of the Shuster estate, siblings, nieces, and nephews, are another. You did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to have earned an ownership stake or cultivated the value of the property.

Please, just go away.

I wish that the old laws on copyright, had just been allowed to stand.Supes would have went public domain in the mid1990s,and both the estates of S& S, would have been free to publish their own take on supes,with half the creators name on them.I’d like to see them attempt to put out a quality supes book.Heck, I’d like to see dozens of takes on the character.As is, dc still has under current law,19 more years of complete control over the character.

Great, wonderful….

This would be more meaningful if the Superman I grew up with actually existed in comics now!

I don’t recognize him and at least half the other DC characters I used to read in comics.

Too many revamps and too many editors and writers trying to make the characters “kewl” instead of portraying them as heroes and aspiring to a higher standard instead of recrafting them for godawful TV shows and even worse motion pictures.
This mentality is now spreading to the animated product that used to the bright spot of DC films… no longer!
You can craft new stories with these characters behaving as heroes instead of thugs or overpowered, mopey teenagers with little of responsibility. As recently as the 1990s this was being done on a regular basis. There’s no singular person or corporate restructuring that changed this overnight but it hard’s to argue that WB’s move to keep closer tabs on DC and the installation of the current DC Troika (D-L-G) plus current DC President D.N. hasn’t solidified the current creative bankruptcy and bleakness of the current DC line. These guys actually believe their redefinition of these characters is going to hold well for the future! The best thing that will happen to Superman is when the character DOES go public domain and new stories can be done with the character by more responsible creators who are not beholden to the current corporate regime!

(I’m concerned about the potential for less responsible adult depictions of the character but there are people outside the current Marvel and DC contracted creator community who get it. There are so many great characters in all kinds of media held in shackles by corporations and senior executive personnel who just don’t know what the hell they’re doing. There’s a laundry list in animation alone of characters that haven’t seen the light of day on TV for decades now!)

It’s all about somebody making their money… with what is easiest and most convenient for these people. That’s the ONLY aim they have right now. And it really shows with their current publishing strategies and straight to trade/hardcover sales!
It’s not about telling GOOD stories that are true to the characters. I just don’t think anyone’s that responsible and really cares much in that direction at DC (and arguably Marvel, too) right now.
They wanted to make money back in the days of Schwartz and his predecessors, too, but they didn’t have this predilection for throwing out the baby with the bathwater!

The court hearings were a distraction from the real travesties of DC editorial and these current writers trying to “make their marks on the characters” INSTEAD of doing right by the characters and keeping their histories and personalities intact!

A pox on both the houses of Marvel and DC.

We’d all have been so much better off if these characters had gone public domain instead of having DC and Marvel and the current crop of creators parade around as if they actually cared about the new product they’re publishing today.

Most of it really isn’t that new anyway… They’re the same plots recycled for the fifith, sixth, and eighth/ninth times in the histories of these characters. Never mind that the original versions of these stories were generally far more entertaining than what passes for “acceptable” in monthly superhero comics now!

next stop scotus and sadly the final chapter being written where dc does indeed own super man completly and totaly screwed over his creators from any future profits by owning superman.

I love how people write things like “The rest of the family doesn’t deserve any money”
So that means the billions of people in this world should not inherit any money after their family passes away?
You are idiots.
Anyone notice their hasn’t been a cool new character created at DC and marvel in years and years?
Creators have wised up, and not given up their creations to DC and Marvel…

J: No, we’re not idiots. We’re speaking in facts. Siegel and Shuster sold the property. That’s it. Beyond that, a huge reason for the monumental success of the character is due to DC, and how the company stewarded the property. McDonald’s was sold to Ray Kroc. The heirs of the McDonald brothers didn’t build that chain up from one location. Kroc did. But the short answer is no. No, heirs of someone who sold a property do not deserve any future earnings from said property unless stipulated as part of the contract for the sale.

Sorry didn’t mean to call anyone an idiot-
I just truly feel that if the comic book companies gave a little of the rewards to the comic creators-
This would be a hell of a lot better industry….
Better writers, and better artist…..

Yes .. these anti-inheritance people boggle the mind .. I mean, if they have some inheritance coming I’m sure they will take it .. :-)

The good news is, comics have evolved .. we now have creator-owned comics. Which are better than what the corporations have done to the works they have stolen from the creators ..

And I hope Claremont and Byrne are getting a ton of money in regards to the “X-Men: Days of Future Past ” movie—
Its going to make million and millions of dollars…

J: True that. I don’t think anyone is saying Jerry and Joe didn’t get a raw deal. Donnenfeld and Liebowitz were shrewd businessmen, but not so good at cultivating a mutually beneficial relationship. The thing is, comics MIGHT have been a fad. If Wertham’s SOTI had caused the collapse of the industry, Superman would be worthless today. It’s hard, but we need to try not to examine the late 30′s through the lens of a Post-Image world. The sad truth is, if not for their loss of control and ownership, as well as subsequent financial troubles, there might not BE an Image Comics. It is their situation that sparked so many changes. Finally, what good could come from the Siegel and Shuster families (and realistically, Marc Toberoff) winning ownership? Is Laura going to start penciling Action Comics? Doubtful. This will only keep Toberoff in a revenue stream and make DC’s operating expenses go up. And that will make comic prices go up.

Brian from Canada

January 22, 2014 at 5:22 pm

J:
Siegel and Shuster’s case is one of the few rare ones where parts of the property was created before it was sold. After that, most of the comic characters were done on agreement it was for the company specifically, making it “work for hire” and thus not covered by this copyright law.

Dr. J:
Superman falling into the public domain means you don’t have to pay the license for those particular aspects. However, Superman’s image, logo, name, costume, etc. are also trademarks of DC to prevent others from using them even if it isn’t covered by copyright because it could defame DC’s version.

(Disney pushed the extension to copyright because it would have allowed you to dub Steamboat Willy with a new name and dialogue track legally, and there was no way they would allow anyone to sully Mickey.)

Big Corporations Rarely Lose

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who feels the slightest bit of empathy for the heirs or say that the creators were ”screwed” are simply refusing to look at the facts and only care about what their emotions and ”morals” dictate.

Fact A:The creators were given a tidy sum for their creator for the great depression. It was chance that lead they to be homeless not DC Comics.

Fact B:Marc Toberoff is an ambulance chasing moron who will drag this out as long as possible to feed his own wallet

Fact C:The heirs got the rights to Superboy and part of the rights to Superman and ya know what they did with it? Nothing. At least DC will USE the character and keep him alive. This isn’t a matter of the ”big guy stepping on the little guy.” It’s a matter of a bunch of greedy kleptomaniacs trying to cheat the system. This isn’t a matter of morality because morality is NOT black & white.

“Fact C:The heirs got the rights to Superboy and part of the rights to Superman and ya know what they did with it? Nothing.”

That’s not a fact; it’s incorrect. A federal judge ruled in 2008 that the Siegel heirs had successfully reclaimed the writer’s portion of the copyright, but that was overturned last year on appeal (as the story states). The issue of the Superboy rights, left dangling by the Ninth Circuit ruling, were resolved in DC’s favor in April (again, as the story states).

I’ll skip the first two “facts,” and add a “Fact D”: The Siegel heirs and the Shuster estate attempted to reclaim the Superman copyrights because U.S. copyright law stipulates they could. It was a bone thrown to authors when Congress extended the duration of copyright (twice), a move that greatly favored publishers and studios. The Siegel and Shuster heirs didn’t try to “cheat the system,” as you claim; they used the system available to them.

In the end, it appears they’ll be unsuccessful due to earlier agreements (the 1992 deal in the case of the Shusters, which still seems shaky, and a 2001 deal, in the case of the Siegels), but the system was indeed used. Still, I’m not sure where the “kleptomania” claim comes from, or why, repeatedly the heirs are repeatedly labeled as “greedy.”

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