The heirs to Superman co-creator Joe Shuster will not be getting back some of the rights to the hero next year as they wanted. A judge said today that an agreement the estate signed 20 years ago with DC Comics rules out any effort by his heirs to terminate the copyright granted to the Warner Bros-owned company. The order granting partial summary judgment (read it here) comes in response to a motion from DC Comics. “The Court finds that the 1992 Agreement, which represented the Shuster heirs’ opportunity to renegotiate the prior grants of Joe Shuster’s copyrights, superseded and replaced all prior grants of the Superman copyrights. The 1992 Agreement thus represents the parties’ operative agreement and, as a post-1978 grant, it is not subject to termination,” wrote District judge Otis Wright III today. DC’s motion is based on their 2010 claim to stop the Shuster heirs taking back rights to some early Superman works on October 26, 2013. In 2008, the estate of the other Superman co-creator, Jerry Siegel recaptured half of the original Superman rights through the courts. ”The order for the most part is the tentative order issued over six weeks ago before oral argument. We respectfully disagree with its factual and legal conclusions, and it is surprising given that the Judge appeared to emphatically agree with our position at the actual summary judgment hearing,” says defendants’ lawyer Marc Toberoff. Warner Bros had no comment …
Freelance journalist Dominic Patten is a Deadline contributor
In a strategic move in the copyright battle between Warner Bros and the heirs to Superman’s creators, the studio has filed an appeal to reverse earlier rulings in the case and put everything out in open court in a trial. “This long-running dispute should be brought to an end,” Warner Bros wrote in a dense 117-page appeal (read it here) filed Friday with the 9th Circuit Court. In typical Hollywood legalities, the move actually resolves nothing — expect to see a response from the heirs and then another back from Warner Bros, and all off it to end up one way or another in the Appellate Court sometime in the late summer or early fall.
Through the courts, the estate of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel recaptured half of the original Superman rights in 2008, with the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013. Warner Bros, which owns longtime Superman publisher DC Comics, disagrees with those decisions. “This case is about the ownership of copyright in the earliest comics that introduced elements of the iconic Superman character and story,” the appeal from Warners lawyer Daniel Petrocelli states. “The case presents an unusually broad array of doctrinal, factual, and procedural issues. But much of the case reduces to a familiar proposition: a deal is a deal.”
The first issue of Action Comics, which came out in 1938, cost 10 cents and featured the first appearance of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s superhero Superman, sold at auction today for $2.16 million. That’s a record for a single comic book, breaking the mark of $1.5 million set in 2010 by another Action Comics No. 1 copy, which wasn’t in as pristine shape. The record-breaking issue sold today went for $86,000 in 1992 and $150,000 in 1997, when it was reportedly purchased by Nicolas Cage. But it was stolen in 2000 and assumed lost until it turned up among the contents of a storage shed purchased by an unidentified buyer in April. Only about 100 copies of the issue are believed to exist. Neither the new buyer or the seller were identified.
UPDATE: There’s been another development in the Superman copyright litigation case. Actually, this is a carnival sideshow to that case and a disgusting exercise by DC Comics and its big Hollywood studio Warner Bros to continue to trample the rights of the Superman rights-holders, the estates of co-creators Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster. When DC and WB couldn’t weasel out of paying the families of Siegel and Shuster what is rightfully owed and reverting copyright back to them, they decided to go after their archnemesis, Superman copyright lawyer Marc Toberoff, who’s been a longtime thorn in Warner Bros’ side because he represents showbiz rights-holders and wins their cases against the studio. The result was that, a year ago, Warner Bros and DC Comics decided to sue Toberoff alleging he had a role as a financial participant in the Superman rights fight with the studio and therefore a conflict of interest repping his clients. Today, a U.S. District Court judge denied an appeal of a magistrate’s ruling which held that “the defendants waived privilege on numerous attorney-client communications stolen from their counsel’s law firm by producing such documents to the United States Attorney’s Office investigating the theft pursuant to a Grand Jury subpoena and a confidentiality agreement.” Forget all the legal mumbo-jumbo, let’s examine what’s really at work here. And it’s that DC Comics and Warner Bros are basing their entire case against Toberoff on stolen documents from his office. That’s right: stolen documents. In my view the Time Warner subsidiaries should be ashamed of themselves.
EXCLUSIVE: Today Lois Lane was cast for Warner Bros’ Superman movie reboot. So it’s fitting to note that, on February 12th, the widow of Superman co-creator Jerome Siegel died of heart failure in a Los Angeles hospital at age 93. While much has been made of the fact that she was the model for Lois Lane, Joanne Siegel also was a driving force along with the estate of Joe Shuster to recapture the entire original copyright to Superman. The Siegel heirs have already been awarded half the copyright for Superman. And in 2013 the Shuster heirs get the remaining half. After that, neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros will be able to use Superman without a financial agreement with the Siegels and Shusters. There are also stipulations on what parts of the origins story can be used in future Superman movies and which require re-negotiations with the creators’ heirs or estates. But Warner Bros keeps fighting the Siegel and Shuster heirs and last May seized on a new hardball strategy: to force their attorney Marc Toberoff to resign by filing a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles raising questions about his alleged role as a financial participant in the Superman copyright. Before her death, Joanne Siegel was preparing the following letter obtained by Deadline:
December 10, 2010
Jeffrey L. Bewkes
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Time Warner Inc.
I am Joanne Siegel widow of Jerry Siegel, creator of Superboy and co-creator of Superman with Joe Shuster. It has always been my policy to be in touch with the Chairmen of the Board of your company going back to when Steve Ross formed Warner Communications.
Steve Ross knew how to take care of large vexing problems. He paid the price, whatever it was, then went on, and the company prospered. He was gracious and friendly when my late husband Jerry and I met him at a stockholders meeting after he sent Jerry, Joe, my daughter Laura and me company stock. He also phoned me to say if we needed anything I should just pick up the phone and call him. He said if he could not be reached for some reason, one of the top officers in the company, Deane Johnson, would handle things personally. Laura and I believe if Steve were alive our copyright ownership matter would have been successfully resolved long ago.
Jerry Levin was also reachable and thoughtful. He sent my husband and later me, cases of grapefruit at the holiday season. He remembered Jerry’s birthday with a Superman sculpture. When my Jerry passed away, Jerry Levin told Laura and me that we are part of the Time Warner family, part of its history. Unfortunately he retired before our rights issues were resolved. He had given his attorneys too much power so that negotiations were unsatisfactory and a settlement was impossible. Dick Parsons, on the other hand, was not friendly and, under him, the attorneys hired by the company were arrogant and pro-litigation.
Now you are Chairman and CEO. Because we are in litigation I held off writing to you. I now believe had we had contact early on, things might not have gone so far off track.
My daughter Laura and I, as well as the Shuster estate, have done nothing more than exercise our rights under the Copyright Act. Yet, your company has chosen to sue us and our long-time attorney for protecting our rights.
On December 1st I turned 93. I am old enough to be your mother. I have grown grandchildren. Unfortunately I am not in the best of health. My cardiologist provided a letter to your attorneys informing them that I suffer from a serious heart condition and that forcing me to go through yet another stressful deposition could put me in danger of a heart attack or stroke. I am also on medications that have side effects which force me to stay close to home and restrooms. Nonetheless your attorneys are forcing me to endure a second deposition even though I have already undergone a deposition for a full day in this matter. As clearly they would be covering the same ground, their intention is to harass me.
My dear daughter Laura too has painful medical conditions including multiple sclerosis, arthritis, glaucoma, spine disorders, and fibromyalgia. She has already had her deposition taken twice by your attorneys while in pain. Her doctors have given written statements saying she should not be subjected to a third deposition, yet your attorneys are insisting on re-taking her deposition in an effort to harass her as well.
So I ask you to please consider – do these mean spirited tactics meet with your approval? Do you really think the families of Superman’s creators should be treated this way?
As you know, DC and Warner Bros. have profited enormously from 72 years of exploiting Jerry and Joe’s wonderful creation. Superman is now a billion dollar franchise and has been DC’s flagship property for all this time.
As for this letter, the purpose is three-fold: