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Comics A.M. | Shuster attorney appeals Superman decision

Action Comics #1

Legal | A federal judge this week made final his Oct. 17 decision that 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 DC Comics, triggering an almost-immediate appeal to the 9th Circuit by Shuster estate lawyer Marc Toberoff. Jeff Trexler delves into the legal strategy behind the attorney’s motion for final judgment. [The Hollywood Reporter]

Legal | Todd McFarlane has settled his lawsuit against former employee Al Simmons, who earlier this year released a book in which he claimed to be the inspiration for Spawn. McFarlane had accused Simmons of violating the terms of his employment pact and breaching his duty of loyalty. Settlement terms weren’t disclosed. [The Hollywood Reporter]

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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. | Jack Kirby’s heirs appeal Marvel rights ruling

Jack Kirby

Legal | The lawyer for Jack Kirby’s heirs asked the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday to overturn a 2011 ruling that Marvel owns the copyrights to the characters the late artist co-created for the publisher, arguing that a federal judge misinterpreted the law. Attorney Marc Toberoff, who also represents the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their fight against DC Comics, told a three-judge panel that a  freelancer who gets paid only when a publisher likes his work is not, under copyright law, performing work for hire. Marvel countered that Stan Lee’s testimony established Kirby drew the contested works at the publisher’s behest; the Kirby family insists the lower court gave too much credence to Lee’s testimony. Kirby’s children filed 45 notices in 2009 in a bid to terminate their father’s assignment of copyright to characters ranging from the Fantastic Four and the Avengers to Thor and Iron Man under a provision of the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act. However, in July 2011, a judge determined those comics created between 1958 and 1963 were work made for hire and therefore ineligible for copyright termination. [Law360.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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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.

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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Superman lawyer scores a minor win in brutal battle with Warner Bros.

From Action Comics #1

Three months after Warner Bros. trumpeted “a significant victory” in its lengthy legal brawl over the rights to Superman, the lawyer representing the estates of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster has claimed a small win of his own.

The studio sued Marc Toberoff in March 2010, two years after Siegel’s heirs were awarded a portion of the copyright to the Man of Steel, accusing the attorney of orchestrating a “web of collusive agreements” with the two families that led them to reject “mutually beneficial” longtime deals with DC Comics and seek to recapture the Superman rights. Warner Bros. based its claims on sensitive documents stolen from Toberoff’s office in 2008 by a disgruntled former associate and delivered anonymously to the studio. Toberoff argued that the papers were covered by attorney-client privilege, but in April the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a May 2011 ruling that Toberoff waived privilege when he turned over the documents in 2010 in response to a grand jury subpoena issued after he met with the U.S. Attorney’s office to discuss an investigation of the theft.

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Warner Bros. seeks trial in high-stakes Superman rights battle

From Action Comics #1

In a bid to retain full ownership of the Man of Steel, Warner Bros. filed a brief on Friday asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a 2008 decision that granted the heirs of Jerry Siegel half the rights to the original Superman story, and to enforce a deal abandoned by the writer’s family seven years earlier. If the 9th Circuit chooses not to rule, the studio wants the case to be remanded to a district court for trial.

In its 117-page brief, Warner Bros. seeks to overturn the earlier ruling that terminated the transfer of copyright to the Superman story in 1938′s Action Comics #1 under the 1976 Copyright Act. The 2008 decision allowed the Siegel family to reclaim many of the Man of Steel’s defining elements, including his costume, Lois Lane, his origin and secret identity — paving the way for the estate of artist Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013 — while leaving Warner Bros. and DC Comics with such later additions as Lex Luthor, kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen. As Hollywood, Esq. reports, the Siegel heirs appealed in December 2011, arguing they should have been permitted to recapture the rights in later Superman comics, which they contend Siegel and Shuster created “on spec,” and then sold to DC for $10 a page.

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Comics A.M. | Appeal in Superman legal fight; Brett Ewins arraigned

Superman

Legal | The attorney for Marc Toberoff, the lawyer representing the Siegel and Shuster families in the bitter battle over the rights to Superman, argued last week before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that Warner Bros. shouldn’t be granted access to sensitive documents stolen from Toberoff’s office and delivered anonymously to the studio in 2008. A federal magistrate judge ruled in May 2011 that Toberoff waived privilege to the documents when he turned over the files in response to a grand jury subpoena issued in the investigation of the theft. An attached cover letter, dubbed the “Superman-Marc Toberoff Timeline,” was determined in 2009 not to be covered by privilege, and become the basis for the studio’s lawsuit against the attorney, in which it claims he acted improperly to convince the heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to seek to reclaim the original copyright to the Man of Steel. Warner Bros. also alleges that Toberoff schemed to secure for himself “a majority and controlling financial stake” in the Superman rights. [Courthouse News Service]

Legal | Former Judge Dredd artist Brett Ewins was arraigned Thursday on charges of grievous bodily harm with intent following an incident last month in which he allegedly attacked police officers with a knife when they responded to a public-disturbance call. The 56-year-old Ewins, who reportedly has a history of mental-health issues, was remanded into custody pending a Feb. 17 preliminary hearing. [Ealing Gazette]

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Warner Bros. lawsuit against Superman attorney can continue

A federal judge has refused to dismiss Warner Bros.’ lawsuit against the attorney representing the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Variety reports.

The studio filed a 65-page complaint in May 2010 accusing Marc Toberoff, its longtime legal nemesis, of orchestrating “a web of collusive agreements” that led the Siegel family to reject “mutually beneficial” longtime deals with DC Comics and seek to recapture copyright to the Man of Steel. The lawsuit, which hinges on documents stolen from Toberoff’s office and delivered anonymously to Warner Bros., is designed to force him to resign as the lawyer for the Siegels, who in 2008 successfully terminated the original 1938 transfer of copyright for Action Comics #1. The window will open in 2013 for Shuster’s estate to do the same.

Toberoff filed a motion in August 2010 to dismiss the studio’s complaint under California anti-SLAPP laws designed to curb lawsuits intended to intimidate the opposition through delays and legal expense.

However, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright ruled Toberoff had failed to demonstrate that his role as attorney for the Siegel and Shuster heirs is protected under the California statutes. Wright specifically cited a business deal Toberoff struck with the Shuster estate that he characterized as “not an agreement for the provision of legal services, but one concerning the exploitation of Joe Shuster’s creations.” That’s presumably a reference to an arrangement that Warner Bros. charged would give Toberoff and his companies “a controlling financial interest in the families’ collective claims — leaving him as the largest financial stakeholder” in the Man of Steel.

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Judge grants Warner Bros. access to stolen Superman documents

Action Comics #1

A federal judge has denied an appeal by the attorney representing the heirs of Superman’s creators, clearing the way for Warner Bros. to gain access to documents the studio contends will demonstrate he “orchestrated a web of collusive agreements” that led the families to reject longtime deals with DC Comics.

The documents, which were stolen from the law offices of Marc Toberoff and delivered anonymously to Warner Bros. in December 2008. Although a judge at the time ruled that the documents were privileged and ordered them returned, it was determined that the attached seven-page cover letter was not protected by attorney-client confidentiality. That letter, dubbed the “Superman-Marc Toberoff Timeline,” became the basis for the studio’s 2010 lawsuit against the attorney, in which it claims he acted improperly to convince the heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to seek to reclaim the original copyright to the Man of Steel. Warner Bros. also alleges tht Toberoff schemed to secure for himself “a majority and controlling financial stake” in the Superman rights.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zarefsky ruled late last month that those documents aren’t protected by attorney-client privilege because Toberoff didn’t fight a grand jury subpoena issued in the investigation of their theft, thus waiving privilege. However, the judge deferred the decision to presiding U.S. District Judge Otis Wright who, according to Hollywood, Esq., on Monday rejected Toberoff’s argument that he had no choice but to cooperate with prosecutors in the burglary investigation.

Barring another appeal, Warner Bros. will finally get unfettered access to the documents that it hopes, at the very least, will force Toberoff, long a thorn in the studio’s side, to resign as the Siegel family’s attorney. Whether the papers are the legal hand grenade that Warner Bros. attorneys have made them out to be, demonstrating improper and even illegal, behavior, of course remains to be seen. Wright could look at the evidence and decide Toberoff’s actions were merely those of an attorney aggressively soliciting clients and (just as aggressively) representing their interests.

If that’s the case, it would make this lawsuit only the latest detour in the decade-long fight for Superman — one that became even more bitter in 2008 following a ruling that Siegel’s widow Joanne Siegel and daughter Laura Siegel Larson had successfully recaptured half of the original copyright to the Man of Steel. The window will open in 2013 for Shuster’s estate to do the same.

Deadline’s Nikki Finke offers spirited commentary on the Warner Bros. lawsuit against Toberoff, focusing on the stolen documents and the studio’s controversial tactics.

Warner Bros. may get access to sensitive papers in Superman battle

Action Comics #1

A ruling by a federal magistrate judge could open the door for Warner Bros. to gain access to confidential documents the studio insists support its claims against the attorney representing the heirs of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their fight for the rights to Superman.

Variety reports that U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zarefsky ruled Wednesday that the documents, stolen from the office of attorney Marc Toberoff and delivered anonymously to Warner Bros. in December 2008, were not protected by attorney-client privilege. However, he postponed a final ruling until Toberoff and his attorneys can seek a decision from U.S. District Judge Judge Otis Wright.

At the time of the theft, a judge ruled that the documents were privileged, and ordered the studio to turn them over to a court officer within 24 hours. However, an attached seven-page cover letter called the “Superman-Marc Toberoff Timeline” was not privileged, and became the basis for Warner Bros.’ 2010 lawsuit against the attorney. The complaint alleges that Toberoff “orchestrated a web of collusive agreements” with the Siegel and Shuster heirs, leading them to reject “mutually beneficial” longtime deals with DC Comics and seek to recapture the Superman copyright. In addition, the studio claims Toberoff schemed to secure for himself “a majority and controlling financial stake” in the Superman rights.

Just last month Zarefsky rejected the studio’s argument that the documents, which purportedly contain a formula for how the two estates and Toberoff would divide the Superman assets, violate the U.S. Copyright Act and, therefore, cannot be isolated from discovery. But this week he determined that Toberoff actually waived privilege when he turned over the documents last year in response to a grand jury subpoena issued after Toberoff met with the U.S. Attorney’s office to discuss an investigation of the theft.

The decision is only the latest twist in Warner Bros.’ increasingly bitter legal battle to hold onto Superman following a 2008 ruling that Siegel’s widow Joanne Siegel and daughter Laura Siegel Larson had successfully recaptured half of the original copyright to the Man of Steel under the provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act. The window will open in 2013 for Shuster’s estate to do the same.

Warner Bros. dealt a setback in Superman legal battle

Action Comics #1

A federal judge on Monday denied an effort by Warner Bros. to gain access to sensitive documents that are alleged to show an agreement between the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster not to strike further copyright deals with the studio, Hollywood, Esq. reports.

The documents, which were at the center of Warner Bros.’ May 2010 lawsuit against Siegel family attorney Marc Toberoff, also purportedly contain a formula for how the two estates, and Toberoff, would divide the Superman assets once they successfully terminate the studio’s rights to the property.

Although Toberoff had convinced the judge in the first trial that those documents were protected by attorney-client privilege, Warner Bros.’ new outside counsel Daniel Petrocelli argued in the 2010 lawsuit that the consent agreement violates the U.S. Copyright Act and, therefore, can’t be insulated from discovery. However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zaresky ruled this week that the studio’s assertion that the documents are illegal doesn’t necessarily make them illegal.

Zaresky’s decision is a setback for Warner Bros., which has been waging an increasingly bitter legal battle to hold onto Superman following a 2008 ruling that Siegel’s widow Joanne Siegel and daughter Laura Siegel Larson had successfully recaptured half of the original copyright to the Man of Steel. The door will open in 2013 for Shuster’s estate to do the same. (Last month Toberoff asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to determine exactly what elements from Superman’s mythology his clients can reclaim as a result of the 2008 decision.)

The tone and tactics of the dispute were the subject of a letter written in December by Joanne Siegel to Time Warner Chairman Jeffrey L. Bewkes, just two months before her death.

Joanne Siegel’s posthumous appeal to Warner Bros.

Superman

Joanne Siegel, widow of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, passed away on Feb. 12 with her family’s prolonged legal battle with Warner Bros. over the Man of Steel still unresolved.

Although a judge ruled in 2008 that the Siegels had successfully recaptured half of the original copyright to Superman, paving the way for the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013, Warner Bros. has continued its increasingly bitter fight for the property. In May the studio went so far as to sue the attorney representing the two families in an effort to force him to resign.

Noting the recent changes in tone and tactics, Joanne Siegel prepared a letter to Time Warner Chairman Jeffrey L. Bewkes just two months before her death asking for an end to such “mean-spirited tactics” as the lawsuit against attorney Marc Toberoff and multiple depositions of herself and daughter Laura Siegel Larson, both of whom were in poor health.

“My daughter Laura and I, as well as the Shuster estate, have done nothing more than exercise our rights under the Copyright Act,” Siegel wrote in the letter, obtained and published by Deadline. “Yet, your company has chosen to sue us and our long-time attorney for protecting our rights. [...] The solution to saving time, trouble, and expense is a change of viewpoint. Laura and I are legally owed our share of Superman profits since 1999. By paying the owed bill in full, as you pay other business bills, it would be handled as a business matter, instead of a lawsuit going into its 5th year.”

The latest turn in the case came just last week, when it was reported that Toberoff had asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to determine exactly what elements from Superman’s mythology his clients can reclaim as a result of the 2008 court ruling.

Read the full text of the letter after the break.

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