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DC Comics seeks definitive end to decade-long Superman legal battle

From Action Comics #1

Seeking to end nearly a decade of litigation, DC Comics has asked for summary judgment in lawsuits brought by the heirs of Jerry Siegel regarding the copyrights to Superman and Superboy.

In a motion filed Thursday in federal court, and first reported by Law360, the publisher’s attorneys assert the Jan. 10 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that effectively affirmed DC’s ownership of the Man of Steel bars Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson from moving forward with any claims.

That decision overturned a 2008 ruling that permitted Siegel’s family to recapture his portion of the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1 under a provision of the 1976 Copyright Act, which seemingly cleared a path for the estate of his collaborator Joe Shuster to do the same this year. That would have given the family of ownership of many of the Man of Steel’s defining elements, including his origin, his secret identity, Lois Lane and certain aspects of his costume and powers (super-strength and super-speed), while leaving DC with such later additions as Lex Luthor, kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen — not to mention the all-important trademarks.

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Comics A.M. | Siegel & Shuster heirs fight DC’s interference claim

Superman

Legal | In the aftermath of last month’s ruling that DC Comics retains full rights to Superman, the heirs of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are urging federal judge to dismiss claims that their lawyer interfered with the publisher’s copyright to the character. DC sued attorney Marc Toberoff in May 2010, accusing him impeding a 1992 copyright agreement with the heirs by striking overriding deals with them in 2001 and 2003. The families insist the publisher filed its claims two years too late, as the statute of limitations expired in 2008. [Law360]

Webcomics | Malicious hackers hit the Blind Ferret servers last week, and they didn’t just wipe out the websites that host Least I Could Do, Girls with Slingshots and other high-profile webcomics — they also wiped out the backups. Gary Tyrell has the story and advises creators to have multiple backups in multiple locations. [Fleen]

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Comics A.M. | J.K. Woodward reflects on wrath of Hurricane Sandy

J.K. Woodward

Creators | Artist J.K. Woodward (Fallen Angel, Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who) recounts how he and his wife lost everything but their cat and the clothes they were wearing during Hurricane Sandy — and how what happened afterward changed his perspective: ““When things are going right, you really don’t know what kind of world you’re living in. You tend to be cynical. But there has been such an outpouring of support not just here but from the comics community — we did a podcast interview, for example, and I mentioned how we had to go to the laundromat every day because of our clothing situation. As a result of that, two days later I went to my studio was packed full of care packages with toiletries and other necessities. It showed that what should have been a real tragedy turned into a blessing. It gave me a much more positive outlook.” [The Conway Daily Sun]

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Comics A.M. | Ohio’s Superman license plate moves closer to reality

Superman specialty plate

Comics | Ohio drivers moved a little closer to getting their Superman specialty license plate Wednesday as the proposal was outlined for a state Senate committee. The bill, which already passed the state House, is on track to go to the full Senate for a vote before the end of the year. The Siegel & Shuster Society launched the campaign for the plates in July 2011 to honor the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel in 2013; the character, which debuted in 1938, was created six years earlier in Cleveland by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The original plan for the plates to include the slogan “Birthplace of Superman,” that met with objections from Warner Bros., which insisted he was born on Krypton. The legend will now read, “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” [Plain Dealer]

Manga | Tony Yao summarizes a recent article from The Nikkei Shimbun that analyzes the readership of Shonen Jump, which is 50 percent female despite the magazine being targeted to boys (“shonen” means “boy” in Japanese). They break down the popularity of series by gender and discuss how the female audience affects editorial decisions. [Manga Therapy]

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DC and Siegel heirs face off in appeal of Superman copyright case

From Action Comics #1

The 9th Circuit heard two appeals Tuesday that could decide the bitter 15-year-old legal battle for control of the Man of Steel.

An attorney for DC Comics asked the three-judge panel to reverse a 2008 decision granting the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel his portion of the copyright to Action Comics #1, arguing the family is reneging on a 2001 agreement that would have ensured the company’s ownership of the billion-dollar property.

DC has long argued that Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson walked away from a settlement deal that would’ve allowed the company to retain all rights to Superman in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions. The publisher claims the heirs only withdrew from the settlement after attorney Marc Toberoff entered the picture, falsely asserting he had a $15 million offer for the rights from a billionaire investor (alleged to be Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel). However, a federal judge determined in 2008 that, without a formalized contract, there was no agreement.

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Comics A.M. | Appeals court to hear Superman copyright case today

Superman

Legal | The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments today on whether a negotiated 2001 deal DC Comics should prevent the daughter of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel from reclaiming his portion of the rights to the Man of Steel under a provision of U.S. copyright law. A federal judge determined in 2008 and 2009 that the writer’s heirs had successfully recaptured the copyright, asserting that because the 2001 agreement hadn’t been formalized, there was no deal. The appeals court is also set to review a ruling allowing DC to sue Marc Toberoff, who represents both the Siegel family and the estate of his collaborator Joe Shuster, for interfering with its agreements with the heirs. [Business Week]

Creators | Collaborators Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher talk about the latest Valiant relaunch, Shadowman. [USA Today]

Creators | John Ostrander, who writes several Star Wars comics for Dark Horse, gives his take on Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. [ComicMix]

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Comics A.M. | Scottish city may honor Beano characters

Bash Street Kids

Comics | Scottish publisher DC Thomson has asked Dundee City Council to rename a street in the city’s west end to honor the Bash Street Kids, stars of the long-running comic strip in The Beano. An unnamed street adjacent to 142/144 West Marketgait would be called Bash Street as part of the celebration of the magazine’s 75th anniversary. [LocalGov]

Retailing | North Hollywood will get a new comics shop on Nov. 10, when Blastoff Comics opens its doors. Owner Jud Meyers seems to think it is an essential part of a hip neighborhood: “They want restaurants, they want bars, they want supermarkets, they want gyms. What didn’t they have? They don’t have a comic book store, every neighborhood has got to have a comic book store.” The opening will feature an assortment of comics guests, including Mark Waid, Greg Hurwitz, and Jim Kreuger, whose The High Cost of Happily Ever After will premiere at the event. [Patch.com]

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DC Comics wins crucial victory in Superman legal battle

From Action Comics #1

Handing a major victory to DC Comics, a California federal judge has ruled the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster surrendered the ability to reclaim their 50-percent interest in the property in a 1992 agreement with the publisher.

While the decision likely will be appealed, for now it means DC and parent company Warner Bros. can use the Man of Steel any way they wish beyond Oct. 26, 2013, when the Shuster estate would have recaptured its copyright to the first Superman story in 1938′s Action Comics #1. However, the companies must account for any profits earned from the property with the family of co-creator Jerry Siegel, which reclaimed its share in 2008 through a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act (the scope of that decision is on appeal). Had the Shuster estate succeeded, DC and Warner Bros. eventually would have been unable to use many of the character’s defining aspects, including his secret identity, his origin, certain elements of his costume and powers (super-strength and super-speed), and Lois Lane — barring a new agreement with the families of the two creators, naturally.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright granted DC’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether the Shuster estate’s 2003 copyright-termination notice was invalidated by a 20-year-old agreement with the late artist’s sister Jean Peavy. The publisher had argued the family relinquished all claims to the Man of Steel in 1992 in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” including payment of Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and a $25,000 annual pension for Peavy.

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Jerry Siegel’s daughter speaks out in open letter to Superman fans

Action Comics #1

The same day that she helped to dedicate an exhibit at Cleveland’s airport recognizing the city as the place of Superman’s creation, Jerry Siegel’s daughter issued a letter to fans recounting her family’s fight to reclaim a portion of the Man of Steel copyright, and criticizing the tactics used by Warner Bros. and DC Comics in the increasingly bitter legal battle.

Characterizing their 15-year crusade as “my family’s David and Goliath struggle against Warner Bros.,” Laura Siegel Larson writes, “My father, Jerry Siegel, co-created Superman as the ‘champion of the oppressed … sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!’ But sadly his dying wish, for his family to regain his rightful share of Superman, has become a cautionary tale for writers and artists everywhere.”

A federal judge ruled in 2008 that the family had succeeded in recapturing that share of the first Superman story in Action Comics #1 through a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act (the scope of the decision is on appeal), paving the way for the estate of Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013, effectively stripping DC of some of the defining elements of the Man of Steel, including his secret identity, his origin, his costume and Lois Lane. DC fired back in 2010, suing to force Marc Toberoff to resign as the Siegel attorney, claiming he enticed the heirs to walk away from a $3 million deal that would’ve permitted the company to retain control of Superman and stands to gain controlling interest in the property. DC is also asking a court to block the Shuster estate from reclaiming its stake, arguing the family relinquished all claims to Superman in 1992 in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” including payment of Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and a $25,000 annual pension for his sister Jean Peavy.

Siegel Larson’s letter, first published by The Hollywood Reporter, arrived on the heels of a DC motion filed Wednesday in the Shuster case accusing Toberoff of, among other things, concealing evidence.

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Superman Welcoming Center unveiled at Cleveland airport

Hundreds gathered Thursday at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for the dedication of the Superman Welcoming Center, a permanent exhibit honoring the Man of Steel and his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who dreamed up the superhero as teenagers living in the city’s Glenville neighborhood.

Spearheaded by the Siegel & Shuster Society, which raised nearly $50,000, the display features a Superman statue, a replica of a telephone booth, trivia, an old-fashioned television that shows images of the superhero from comics, television and film, all beneath the greeting, “Welcome to Cleveland — Where the Legend Began.”

The Plain Dealer reports that among the speakers were Mayor Frank Jackson and Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson. “My dad, my mother and Joe would have been delighted, honored and humbled at this honor,” she said. “They would love to know that millions of people going through this airport would get to see the display and know that Superman was created right here in Cleveland.”

Watch video from the event below.

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DC Comics accuses lawyer in Superman case of misconduct

Action Comics #1

Even as a judge is poised to rule whether the Joe Shuster estate’s bid to reclaim a portion of the Superman rights is valid, DC Comics is accusing the family’s attorney — a longtime legal nemesis of parent company Warner Bros. — of misconduct, and has asked the court to end the case.

Hollywood, Esq. reports the publisher on Wednesday filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing, arguing that attorney Marc Toberoff, who also represents Jerry Siegel’s heirs, “has violated three court orders, submitted four false and misleading declarations, made misrepresentations to the court, bogged down the court for years in his efforts to [hide] the ball, and otherwise subverted DC’s right to a fair search for the truth in both this case and the Siegel case.”

DC is pushing for terminating sanctions, which usually consists of dismissal. Toberoff tells Hollywood, Esq. that the motion is another distraction by the company, which filed a lawsuit in 2010 designed to force him to resign as the Siegels’ attorney.

DC claims that in 2001 Toberoff convinced Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson to walk away from a $3 million deal that would’ve permitted the publisher to retain the rights to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1. Shuster’s nephew Mark Warren Peary also signed with Toberoff, and in 2008 the Siegel family succeeded in reclaiming a portion of the rights through a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act (the case is on appeal); the window opens for the Shuster estate in 2013.

However, DC insists the termination notice filed by Peary in 2003 is invalid, arguing that the estate relinquished all claims to the Man of Steel in 1992 in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” including payment of Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and a $25,000 annual pension for his sister Jean Peavy. But Toberoff asserted last month that DC didn’t intend for the “ambiguous” 1992 document to transfer ownership of the copyright, telling U.S. District Judge Otis Wright that the publisher would never pin the future of “a billion-dollar property” on such an agreement. Wright, who will also consider DC’s latest motion, initially was skeptical but later appeared to recognize logic in Toberoff’s argument.

In addition to terminating sanctions, DC seeks the assignment of a special master to investigate any misconduct.

Cleveland airport to dedicate Superman exhibit Oct. 11

An artist's rendition of what the Superman display might look like

A permanent exhibit will open Oct. 11 at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport honoring Superman and his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who dreamed up the superhero as teenagers living in the city’s Glenville neighborhood.

The project was spearheaded by the Siegel & Shuster Society, which raised about $50,000 through donations by fans to allow the idea to take flight. Cleveland City Council approved the proposal in January.

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Balloonless | Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero

While there’s a lot to be said for getting there first, is the fact that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman was the first superhero, the character that created a unique and endlessly tweakable template and founded an increasingly pervasive genre, the only reason the Man of Steel occupies the unique place he does in our culture?

In his new book Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero, Larry Tye pens a biography of sorts of the character, biographies being something Tye has more than a little experience writing (his previous works include biographies of Satchel Paige and Edward L. Bernays). Given that focus, Tye doesn’t really set about answering the question of why Superman is our most enduring hero, a question that seems particularly relevant as Supes has ceded the title of most popular hero to his one-time imitator Batman in a lot of the most pertinent metrics (comic book sales and box office earnings, for example).

Tye naturally alights on some of the most oft-cited reasons, including the psychological appeal of the incredible amount of wish-fulfillment Siegel and Shuster imbued their hero with — from being stronger than everyone else and able to fly to successfully leading a double life in which one persona is as accepted as the other persona dreams of being to the character’s unique relationship with the woman of his dreams — and the way the hero almost literally wrapped himself in the American flag and made himself synonymous with his home country.

While recounting the history of Superman, however, Tye reveals another obvious but less obsessed over reason. By a mixture of luck and his owners’ relentless pursuit of profits, Superman has managed to experiment with and conquer emerging media almost as immediately as they became viable — from the brand-new comic books of the late 1930s he segued easily into comic strips, and his was an early and huge hit radio program. He was in movie theaters with both cartoons and serials. He was on television in the 1950s, and between reruns and new shows, he never really left — live-action or animation or both at once, Superman is and always has been a television mainstay. Then, of course, there were feature films — Hollywood is riding a still-cresting wave of superhero blockbusters, and the next Superman feature is due next year, but there were Superman movies a full decade before there were superhero movies.

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Shuster estate says 1992 deal shouldn’t stop bid for Superman rights

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.”

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Ruling looms in Shuster estate’s bid to reclaim Superman rights

From Action Comics #1

A federal judge is set to decide whether the estate of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster can reclaim a portion of the rights to the Man of Steel.

Variety reports U.S. District Judge Otis Wright has canceled a hearing scheduled for Aug. 20 on a DC Comics motion for summary judgment in the drawn-out, and increasingly bitter, legal dispute, saying he will decide the matter without oral argument.

With the window opening next year for the Shuster estate to recapture its stake in the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1, DC filed the motion last month revisiting its earlier claims that termination notice filed in 2003 by the artist’s nephew Mark Warren Peary is invalid. The heirs of Shuster’s collaborator Jerry Siegel reclaimed their portion of the rights in 2008 and 2009 under a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act.

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