The legal war for the rights to Superman has been raging for so long now, it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t. At one point, things looked incredibly dour for Warner Bros., DC Comics’ parent company, as a judge had awarded Jerry Siegel’s heirs the rights to the elements of Superman as created in Action Comics #1 (Krypton, the costume, Clark Kent, etc.), leaving Warners with elements created in subsequent comics (Lex Luthor, kryptonite, the all-important Cyborg Superman, etc.).
More recently, however, things have been going Warner Bros.’ way, starting with a ruling in October from Judge Otis Wright that the heirs of Superman’s other creator, Joe Shuster, have no claim to Superman’s copyright. Apparently, Shuster’s sister struck an agreement in 1992 to forego any “past, present, or future claims against DC” if the comic book company would pay her $25k a year and cover her brother’s debts.
Now the other shoe has dropped.
On Wednesday, Judge Otis Wright ruled that a deal struck between the Siegel heirs and Warner Bros. in 2001 was binding and that the Siegels have no claim to the copyright at present. The Siegels’ lawyer, Marc Toberoff, had tried to argue that said deal was not enforceable, saying, “DC anticipatorily breached [the contract] by instead demanding unacceptable new and revised terms as a condition to its performance; accordingly, the Siegels rescinded the agreement [via letters] and DC abandoned the agreement.”
But according to Wright, there was no such rescission. The Siegels would’ve had to send a proper notice to Warners and DC in order to (potentially) legally rescind the agreement, and the letters traded between the two parties in 2002 don’t qualify, despite Toberoff’s argument to the contrary. Still, Otis Wright’s ruling doesn’t preclude the Siegel heirs from filing a breach of contract suit in the future
So what does this all mean? In short, it means that Warner Bros. and DC Comics are the current owners of Superman and there’s no immediate concern that they could lose the character’s rights (not even 50% of them) to the Siegels. But you can pretty much guarantee that the Siegels won’t stop here – per Wright’s ruling, there’s definitely a basis for a breach of contract suit, as Warner Bros. failed “to provide a royalty statement to the Siegels by March 31, 2001, as agreed in the October 19, 2001 Letter, and failed to pay or offer to pay the Siegels their royalties.”
In fact, it’s very possible that this thing could go all the way to the Supreme Court – that is, if the two parties don’t reach a settlement anytime soon.
What do you think of the ruling, Screen Ranters? Let us know in the comments.
Man of Steel hits theaters June 14th, 2013.
Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.
Sources: The Hollywood Reporter