The past decade has been a tumultuous one for Warner Bros. regarding their flagship character. The company has been entangled in a lawsuit with the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, after the latter’s nephew Mark Peary filed a copyright termination notice in 2003. In 2008, the federal court ruled not only that the Schuster’s heirs would officially take ownership of the Man of Steel and his properties in 2013, but that if Warner didn’t produce another Superman film by 2011, they could be sued for lost revenue.
However, things started to look up for Warners in 2012 when Judge Otis D. Wright ruled that a 1992 deal Between Schuster’s sister and DC – in which she waived the right to any “past, present, or future claims against DC” in exchange for $25k a year and coverage of her brother’s debts – meant that the family had no claim to Superman’s rights. Furthermore, in 2013, Wright declared the Siegels’ 50% claim to the character to be voided due to a deal struck between the family and Warner Bros. in 2001.
In other words, it was ruled that the Siegel and Shuster heirs had signed away their rights to Superman years ago. They filed an appeal anyway.
It seems like Warner Bros. is in the clear, though – after finding themselves back in court on Thursday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal made its ruling: 2-1 in favor of Warner.
Supporting Warner Bros. in the suit were Judges Stephen Reinhardt and John Sedwick, who expressed their disapproval of actions taken by the defendants and their lawyers to conceal certain relevant information in the original 2003 notice — specifically that they planned to develop their own Superman movies under attorney Marc Toberoff’s production company Pacific Pictures if they managed to secure the rights.
Warner Bros., who in 2010 sued Toberoff for allegedly goading Peary and the other heirs into the copyright termination notice so he could reap some Super-profits of his own, had this to say:
“We are obviously very pleased with the court’s decision.”
Warner Bros. might be pleased, but Toberoff, the Siegels, and the Shusters must be frustrated – it has to sting, knowing they’ll probably never see the rights to the character Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster created seven decades ago, especially after Man of Steel brought in over $660 million at the box office this year. Whether or not the heirs will file yet another appeal remains to be seen, though at this point it would be more annoying than anything on their part, as there doesn’t really seem to be anywhere new for them to go with it.
Warner Bros., at least, can rest easy knowing their plans for Superman are safe. Assuming they don’t get sucked back into court by the Siegels and Shusters, they’ll be able to put their full focus on the upcoming Batman vs. Superman and its sequels and spin-offs.
Are you guys relieved Warner Bros. won the case, or do you think it’s only fair that Shuster and Siegel’s heirs should should hold some ownership over the Superman franchise?
The next Superman film, Batman vs. Superman hits theaters July 17th, 2015.