Marc Toberoff Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources

Hollywood guilds join push for Supreme Court to hear Kirby case

jack kirbyThree organizations representing Hollywood actors, directors and screenwriters have thrown their weight behind an effort to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal by the heirs of Jack Kirby that could have ramifications far beyond Marvel and the comics industry.

The case, as most readers know by now, involves the copyrights to the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Thor and other characters created or co-created by Kirby during his time at Marvel in the 1960s. The artist’s children filed 45 copyright-termination notices in September 2009, seeking to reclaim what they believe to his stake in the properties under the terms of the U.S. Copyright Act. Marvel responded with a lawsuit, which led to a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s 1960s creations were work for hire and therefore not subject to copyright reclamation. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in August 2013, which brings us to the Kirby family’s petition to the Supreme Court.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Screen Actors Guild-Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America have filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief that insists the Second Circuit’s ruling “jeopardizes the statutory termination rights that many Guild members may possess in works they created.”

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Supreme Court to decide next week whether to hear Kirby case

kirby-kirby4heroesThe U.S. Supreme Court will debate in a private conference on May 15 whether to weigh in on the five-year copyright battle between Jack Kirby’s heirs and Marvel/Disney, Deadline reports.

The odds are against the artist’s children, as the Supreme Court receives about 10,000 petitions each year, but hears oral arguments in only about 75 to 80 of those cases. However, if the Justices decide to take up the case, oral argument will be scheduled later this month for the court’s next session.

The Kirby family filed a petition with the high court on March 21 arguing “it is beyond dispute” that the artist’s Marvel output between 1959 and 1963 was not produced as “work for hire” and, therefore, is subject to a clause in the U.S. Copyright Act that permits authors and their heirs to reclaim rights transferred before 1978.

That appeal followed an August decision by the Second Circuit upholding a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s Marvel works were indeed made at the publisher’s “instance and expense” and, therefore, fell under “work for hire.” As such, the courts found, the 45 copyright-termination notices the artist’s heirs filed in 2009 for such characters as the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk were invalid.

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Jack Kirby’s heirs take Marvel copyright fight to Supreme Court

Jack KirbyClaiming an appeals court “unconstitutionally appropriated” Jack Kirby’s copyrights and gave them to Marvel, the late artist’s heirs have taken their fight with the comics publisher to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a petition filed March 21, and first reported by Law 360, Kirby’s children argue “it is beyond dispute” that the artist’s Marvel work between 1959 and 1963 was not produced as “work for hire” and, therefore, is subject to a clause in the U.S. Copyright Act that permits authors and their heirs to reclaim copyrights transferred before 1978.

The appeal follows an August decision by the Second Circuit upholding a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s Marvel works were indeed made at the “instance and expense” — that term plays a significant role in the heirs’ petition — with the publisher assigning and approving projects and paying a page rate; in short, they were “work for hire.” As such, the courts found, the 45 copyright-termination notices the artist’s heirs filed in 2009 for such characters as the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk were invalid.

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Shuster estate’s case may be over, but Superman fight continues

Superman Unchained #1

Superman Unchained #1

Although an appeals court seems to have brought to an end the Joe Shuster estate’s bid to reclaim the artist’s stake in Superman, The Hollywood Reporter reminds us that the fight by Jerry Siegel’s heirs is far from over.

According to the website, attorney Marc Toberoff — he represents both families — is scheduled to file a brief next month on a pending appeal of a March 2013 ruling that affirmed the writer’s family relinquished any claims to the Man of Steel by accepting a 2001 offer from DC Comics that permits the publisher to retain all rights to Superman (as well as Superboy and The Spectre) in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions.

Toberoff maintains the Siegels never accepted the DC offer (the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found otherwise), but even if there was a contract, then the publisher failed to perform. That explains the addition last year 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.

However, Wright noted that breach-of-contract claims are a matter for state court, and don’t affect the enforceability of the 2001 agreement. So, a separate lawsuit remains an option for the Siegels, even if — or perhaps when — they exhaust their copyright case.

As The Hollywood Reporter points out, while the Siegel heirs still face “incredibly long odds,” their fight isn’t over yet.

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.”

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Shuster heirs seek a rehearing of Superman copyright appeal

Action Comics #1

Action Comics #1

As expected, the attorney for the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster has asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for a rehearing of last month’s ruling that reaffirmed the artist’s estate can’t reclaim his copyright stake in the Man of Steel.

The Ninth Circuit upheld in a 2-1 opinion an October 2012 ruling by a lower court that the Shuster family relinquished all claims to the character in a 1992 agreement with DC Comics 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.

But in a petition filed Tuesday, and first reported by Deadline, attorney Marc Toberoff insists the Nov. 21 opinion warrants a rehearing by either the three-judge panel or the Ninth Circuit’s full bench “because it contravenes Congress’ clear objectives, and this Court’s carefully-circumscribed decisions.”

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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.

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‘This case is by no means over,’ vows lawyer in Superman battle

From Action Comics #1

From Action Comics #1

Despite a series of seemingly definitive decisions in DC Comics’ favor, the nearly decade-long legal fight over the rights to Superman continues, with the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster asking an appeals court just three weeks ago to overturn a ruling barring the family from reclaiming the artist’s stake in the Man of Steel. At the center of the battle is tenacious and controversial attorney Marc Toberoff, the longtime nemesis of Warner Bros. who represents the heirs of Shuster and his collaborator Jerry Siegel.

He’s the subject of a lengthy feature in the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, in which he pledges he’ll take the Superman dispute to the Supreme Court, if necessary. “This case is by no means over,” he tells the magazine. “My clients and I are prepared to go the distance.” It’s an interesting article that’s part history lesson and part personality profile, with several tidbits (of varying importance) that I can’t recall seeing previously:

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Shuster estate urges appeals court to reverse Superman ruling

From Action Comics #1

From Action Comics #1

If you thought the nearly decade-long legal battle for the rights to the Man of Steel had come to an end last month, think again: On Thursday, the attorney for the Joe Shuster estate asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn an October ruling that the family was prevented from reclaiming the artist’s stake in Superman by a 20-year-old agreement with DC Comics.

At issue is a 1992 deal in which the estate relinquished all claims to the property 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. On Oct. 17, 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 9th Circuit overturned a 2008 decision granting the heirs of Jerry Siegel the writer’s 50-percent share of the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1, effectively granting DC full ownership of the character.

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Judge denies DC’s claims against attorney in Superman feud

action1Following a series of devastating legal blows to the estates of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, their lawyer has finally received some good news: A federal judge denied a bid by DC Comics to force Marc Toberoff to pay $500,000 in attorneys  fees.

According to Variety, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright on Thursday rejected the publisher’s 2010 claims that Toberoff illegally interfered with its copyright claims to the Man of Steel when he convinced the Siegel and Shuster heirs to walk away from “mutually beneficial” agreements and seek to recapture the rights to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1. They argued that the attorney stood to gain a controlling interest in the property.

But Wright sided with Toberoff and the Siegel and Shuster heirs, saying that DC had waited too long to make its claims of tortious interference. “The point here is that DC had more than enough knowledge by November 2006 to have tickled a suspicion that its business relationship with the Shusters was being tampered with,” the judge wrote. “It was then—and not when DC gathered the smoking-gun evidence supporting each element of its cause of action—that it should have filed suit.”

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Judge confirms Superman belongs to DC Comics

Superman Unchained #1

Superman Unchained #1

A federal judge confirmed Wednesday that the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel relinquished any claims to the character in a 2001 agreement with DC Comics. However, that seems unlikely to end the nearly decade-long legal battle over the Man of Steel.

The order by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright III follows the January decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Siegel heirs had accepted a 2001 offer from DC that permits the publisher to retain all rights to Superman (as well as Superboy and The Spectre) in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions — and therefore were barred from reclaiming a portion of the writer’s copyright to Action Comics #1.

Unwilling to give up, Siegel attorney Marc Toberoff introduced a new strategy earlier this month, arguing not only that the Ninth Circuit didn’t settle all of the outstanding issues but that if there was a contract, then DC failed to perform: “DC anticipatorily breached by instead demanding unacceptable new and revised terms as a condition to its performance; accordingly, the Siegels rescinded the agreement, and DC abandoned the agreement.”

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Comics A.M. | Judge won’t sanction lawyer in Superman battle

Superman

Superman

Legal | A federal judge on Friday denied DC Comics’ bid for sanctions against the attorney for the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, finding that Marc Toberoff made “no deliberate attempt to mislead” during the discovery process and, perhaps more importantly, did not interfere with the publisher’s rights to the Man of Steel when he allegedly inserted himself into settlement talks in 2001. [The Hollywood Reporter]

Legal | Stan Lee will be deposed this week by lawyers representing Stan Lee Media in its multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against Disney involving the rights to the characters the legendary writer co-created for Marvel. Stan Lee Media, which no longer has ties to its namesake, claims Disney as infringed on the copyrights Iron Man, the Avengers, X-Men and other heroes since 2009, when it purchased Marvel. The long, tortured dispute dates back to a sequence of events that occurred between August 1998, when Marvel used its bankruptcy proceedings to terminate Lee’s lifetime contract, and November 1998, when Lee entered into a new agreement with the House of Ideas and signed over his likeness, and any claims to the characters. Stan Lee Media has long claimed that on Oct. 15, 1998, Lee transferred to that company the rights to his creations and his likeness. SLM asserts in the latest lawsuit that neither Marvel nor Disney, which bought the comic company in 2009, has ever registered Lee’s November 1998 agreement with the U.S. Copyright Office. [The Hollywood Reporter]

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Superman legal battle isn’t over yet: Siegels try a new strategy

Action Comics #1

Action Comics #1

Despite a January appeals court decision that seemed to signal an end to the nearly decade-long battle for ownership of Superman, the family of co-creator Jerry Siegel still holds out hope for victory over DC Comics.

Overturning a 2008 ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found Jan. 10 that the Siegel heirs had accepted a 2001 offer from DC that permits the publisher to retain all rights to the Man of Steel (as well as Superboy and The Spectre) in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions — and therefore they were barred from reclaiming a portion of the writer’s copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1.

That decision came less than three months after a federal judge determined the 2003 copyright-termination notice filed by the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster was invalidated by a 20-year-old agreement with DC in which the late artist’s sister Jean Peavy relinquished all claims to Superman in exchange “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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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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