The lawyer for the estate of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster asked a federal judge on Wednesday to reject DC Comics’ assertion that the artist’s relatives signed away all claims to the Man of Steel 20 years, saying the company would not have staked the ownership of “a billion-dollar property” on a one-page deal.
The hearing follows a tentative ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright granting DC’s motion for partial summary judgment asking the court to enforce a 1992 agreement in which the 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 with a $25,000 annual pension. The publisher argued that deal voids a copyright-termination notice filed in 2003 by Shuster’s nephew Mark Warren Peary to reclaim the artist’s portion of the rights to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1.
However, Law 360 reports that Marc Toberoff, the attorney representing the Shuster estate and the family of Jerry Siegel, insisted during Wednesday’s arguments that DC didn’t intend for the “ambiguous” 1992 document to transfer ownership of the copyright. “I submit that it’s impossible for this document to be the basis for Warner Bros. and DC’s chain of title to a billion-dollar property,” he said. “When they want someone to assign a copyright, they have an agreement this thick, and that agreement is filed with the Copyright Office to give the world constructive notice.”