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Shuster estate asks Supreme Court to take up Superman case

From Action Comics #1

From Action Comics #1

The estate of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that bars it from reclaiming a stake in the character, arguing the artist’s siblings didn’t have the ability to assign his copyrights to DC Comics more than two decades ago.

As Law360 reports, the estate insists the Ninth Circuit erred in its November ruling that the family relinquished all claims to Superman in 1992 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 2012, 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.

In the petition, the estate argues — just as it did in its unsuccessful petition for a rehearing before the Ninth Circuit’s full bench — that Peavy and Frank Shuster had no termination right to exercise in 1992, because before the 1998 Copyright Extension Act that right only extended to spouses, children and grandchildren, not siblings. Therefore, DC Comics in 1992 still held the Shuster stake assigned to the company’s predecessor in 1938. The estate insists Shuster’s sister and brother were merely releasing DC from future payments in exchange for the pensions, an argument echoed in Judge Sidney Runyan Thomas’ dissent to the November decision.

“The court of appeals’ decisions cast a pall over the ownership of billions of dollars in copyrights,” the petition states. “Other grantees, inspired by the rulings of the courts of appeals, will no doubt opt to litigate upon receiving a copyright termination notice, imposing grave costs on any author or other statutory beneficiary seeking to avail herself of the rights Congress bestowed.”

The Shuster petition follows another filed in March by the heirs of Jack Kirby, who seek Supreme Court intervention in their fight with Marvel and Disney over the copyrights to 45 properties created or co-created by the artist. The justices accept only 100 to 150 out of the more than 7,000 cases they’re asked to review each year.

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13 Comments

as much as the justices should take up this case if nothing else to decide one and for all if property like superman copyright under law has a limit to finaly be reclaimed. but also finaly end the long battle by the estates and dc over ownership of superman. but sadly just like the jack kirby case the justices will say no to hearing shusters appeal.

DC will show Schuster’s sister was of legal sound mind and body when it comes to her taking her lump sum thinking it would more than make up for the decades of earning nothing and the unruly heirs slither away back to the depths from which they came, truly unaware of the great things their relative truly achieved, being only in it for the money, knowing nothing of the prestige.

Evan Meadow,

Copy right fights are always and only about the money. The heirs, whomever they may be, feel they have a right to enjoy some of the riches DC has obtained from the works of Mr. Schuster. This is how the system works.

Same goes for the Kirby heirs. They are in it for the money, plain and simple.

You really don’t get anything from saying, oh well my grandfather created this or that. The companies who own the copyright do. So you really can’t blame these people for trying to get something out of it.

“DC will show Schuster’s sister was of legal sound mind and body …”

That’s not at issue here. The estate argues that she and her brother didn’t have the legal authority to take any actions in 1992 regarding the Shuster copyrights because a.) those copyrights still belonged to DC under the 1938 transfer; and b.) Congress didn’t extend termination right to siblings until 1998.

@demoncat_4

Point of order: the justices of the Supreme Court have not yet said whether they’ll take the Kirby case or not.

The Supreme Court will likely not hear the case. The reason for this has to do with the fact that his Sister was his legal heir. She received the rights to his work as part of his legal will.

Though the statement about the law is accurate, that it only applies to direct family (parent, child, etc.) the reason for the 1998 change was because sometimes individuals didn’t have those. Several cases have to date been heard in lower courts and courts-of-appeal relating to the legality of transfer before the 1998 modification went into affect. In more cases the result was the same… if they legal heir forfeited the rights then it stuck.

In this case it certainly would not fall to his nephew which is who was filing suit. This isn’t like it was Shuster’s son or daughter, or their children. We’re talking about the child of one of the persons that gave up their rights. They are looking for a loophole in order to cash in on work they did not have anything to do with.

Brian from Canada

June 30, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Both estates benefit from invalidating the 1983 agreement. Shuster’s sister’s children can argue successfully that the royalty agreements were not made properly and need to be revised (at a higher royalty) while the Siegels can hope THEIR administration of his royalties before the identification of his sister as heir means they can argue they have a stake in ensuing both estates are handled equally.

Sadly, while it would benefit the industry to have this — or the Kirby case — dealt with by the Supreme Court to establish precedent for future cases, and more importantly shut up Toberoff once and for all, it’s doubtful the Court will hear either case.

The Seigel/Shuster case is hampered by multiple agreements that followed. The boys sued DC after the war for the rights and lost. In the 70s, new agreements were made and there was a later agreement in the 80s, not to mention the last agreement which went unsigned. You could argue that DC has not paid out the royalties assigned by those agreements in good faith as of yet, but DC has certainly proved repeatedly a desire to honour the creators while still maintaining good guardianship of the property.

The Kirby case is hampered by the fact his partner is still alive. Stan Lee is a live witness, and the communications from that period suggest a work for hire system that is everything but in name. With Marvel in the hands of Disney, the courts will have a hard time blaming a company that has succeeded in defending its copyright to much stronger extremes.

Instead of reversion, there SHOULD be agreements put in place to ensure royalties are retroactively established at a decent rate for reprint material and acknowledgement of the character so that the families are taken care of — given that the pension plan for comic creators was non-existent at the time. That’s fair. Suing for millions so that you can have the spot at the table when profits from the movies decades after creation just doesn’t fit the original idea of the copyright idea.

And of course the attorney in both cases… Marc Toberoff. CBR should make sure that’s noted in the article.

So the Kirby case and the Shuster case are going to be considered by the Supreme Court at the same time. Marvel and DC seem to be inseparable no matter what they do.

thurston howell

June 30, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Why are so many people against the kirbys and shusters and every other comic creator?
These people created the hobby you love.
They, and their families should all be compensated.
Do you know how many nameless faceless heirs of money are living the high life on this planet from their parents and grandparents hard work?

I don’t think anyone is against the creators. Most people see what is happening now, after the fact and after the creators have died, as nothing more than a money grab by the families.

If any of these creators were still alive and personally involved in these suits, I think a lot of people would feel differently.

But in the case of Shuster’s family, agreement after agreement has been signed and later the family decides they want more.

At some point it just looks greedy.

I am not surprised Marc Toberoff is involved in both suits. I would be less surprised if his contract says that he would own a percentage of the characters involved if he won.

thurston howell

July 1, 2014 at 9:36 am

They are looking for a “money grab”? Welcome to the planet earth.
Again, the comics business is nothing compared to what goes on…

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