Warner Bros. Wins Final Piece of ‘Superman’ Lawsuit

Published 1 year ago by

Warner Bros Wins Final Piece of Superman Lawsuit Warner Bros. Wins Final Piece of Superman Lawsuit

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.

Superman 75th Anniversary Warner Bros. Wins Final Piece of Superman Lawsuit

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.

Source: Deadline.com

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  1. I always try to avoid messy situations like this but its interesting, concerning all the history with this Superman thing.

  2. that is so not right but that is the law. i think the family deserve part ownership

    • Why do they deserve ownership if they signed it away?

    • You’re wrong. The family signed the rights away. Stupid family.

    • Why should the heirs have any ownership right if they signed them away? If it were Joe or Jerry I’d be more inclined to support them, even if they signed the rights away, but the heirs have nothing to do with any of the continued success of the Superman brand.

  3. I hope it is done .
    It has gone on long enough.

  4. it’s weird how Superman is a symbol for America kinda like Cap but was creating in Canada

    • He wasn’t created in Canada but in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition, Superman was created by Jewish immigrants, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and that they admitted that the parallels between Superman’s origin and that of their own was a source of inspiration.

      • Actually it was co created by a Canadian. So there’s some Canada in there somewhere.

      • ya sorry influenced from Toronto…slipped my mind, i kept hearing Daily Star in my head, i think Shushter was born in Canada his parents are immigrants

        • I do recall the Daily Star being the original name for the Daily Planet. You guys are right in that one of the co-creators, I think Joe Shuster was Canadian-born. Anyway, I do hope to see WB taking a much more intimate look at Superman’s mythology and rogues gallery. I hope to see Lex Luthor and Metallo in Superman/Batman. Followed by, Brainaic in the official stand-alone sequel to Man of Steel and to conclude it all Doomsday to give a sense of finality to Superman’s characterization and later resurrection to emphasize Superman’s messiah-like qualities. What do you guys think?

          • picture Woddy Harrelson as Lex

  5. Hmmm. I’m not an expert on this case, but if the heirs signed away their rights, then they signed away their rights.

    On the other hand, are they now getting *nothing* from the character’s earnings? Because that is a sad thought.

    Who’d have imagined back in the 1930s what this type of intellectual property would someday be worth…

  6. 25K just imagine…

  7. Hopefully this means that the “new 52″ and all of it’s ancillary BS that was produced as an attempt to distance the “superman” being used by DC today from the the descriptions and wording used to describe him in the lawsuits (ie. several significant elements of the character and his costume) will be tossed shortly and the character brought back to where and what he was two years ago.

    • + 1

    • I like The New 52 though.

  8. As someone whose work falls squarely in the field of “covered by copyright”, I have to say that I don’t believe the way copyright laws are presently set up is fair, equitable, or logical.

    Copyright should belong to the creator, until his or her death. Then a FIXED time after the creator’s death, to the heirs. 50 years sounds fair.

    And after that? it should become public domain. Period. No renewals of copyright by shady corporate lawyers.

    I see absolutely no reason why the heirs of the creators of Superman should be benefiting from this work 70 years later. I also don’t see why the studio should have any rights to the material. They can create films all they want, but should have absolutely no “ownership” of the intellectual property – other than the actual scripts of their films.

    • So by your plan here, Marvel or any other start up comic business should have the right to create Superman comics then? Copyright does belong to the creator until that creator, chasing money, sells those rights to a large corporation to use said intellectual property. The corporation takes a risk on the intellectual property just as much as the creator. What if Superman didn’t become the huge influence he did and instead became just another laughed at relic of the early days of comics? Would DC have rights to sue Shuster/Sigel or their heirs for lost money in the investment?

      • A corporation has no “life expectancy”.

        If a corporation detains a copyright, it could, in theory, NEVER run out, as that corporation could continue to exist for hundreds of years.

        I believe that the original creator of an intellectual property should detain all rights to a creation. Period. I don’t believe that a corporation should even be ALLOWED to buy out the rights to intellectual property.

        A set number of years after the death of the author/creator is perfect for copyright to exist.

        If a corporation created something (the employee of said corporation being the de facto “creator” within the corporation) then that corporation should have rights on that creation, but for a LIMITED time.

        There is no reason for renewal of copyright by any party other than the creator.

        Copyright law has to be cleaned up, retro-acted, and made more uniform across international boundaries.

        Right now, there is a mish-mash of laws, some countries it’s 50 years after an author’s death, in others it’s 70, in some it’s a number of years after the creation of the work, and then x-number of years after the death of the creator if the death occurs within the time limit of the original countdown, etc… it’ gets ridiculous.

        And now, with American companies “renewing” copyrights and claiming all these ridiculous extensions on the length of copyright only to feed their greedy faces, the people really suffering are the actual creators.

        American copyright law is screwing the entire creative community over 100-fold.

        • What does life expectancy matter though? Sure, Superman is one of those rare characters who enjoys a long history, but what if he had been nothing more than a passing fad like ALF or Howard the Duck. Superman’s “life expectancy” would’ve only been a few years before getting tossed in the closet forever. Bottomline is the “greedy” corporations don’t get the rights to any outside intellectual property until they purchase those rights from the creator. If the creator doesn’t sell them, they can’t get them and have grounds for suing the corporation if a similar property is created without those rights. Don’t sell stuff you’re going to want later.

          • This is correct.

            Can’t speak for comic books though but in the UK, a song is automatically controlled by the writer(s) for 75 years before becoming available for anybody to buy after copyright laws were challenged when Michael Jackson bought the rights to a lot of Beatles songs back in the 80s.

            The correct way of doing something in the comic book world (or any other medium other than music, which has a body that ensures songwriters get their royalties whenever a song is played) is to grant a license but never sell the intellectual properties.

            They didn’t know that back in the 30s but I’m glad this seems to be over.

      • Well, if you compare it to great works of literature, no entity owns the “rights” to Shakespeare or the novels of Jane Austen. They’re in the public domain. But the legacies of S and JA remain intact, because no one can claim the works as their. Everybody knows who created Romeo & Juliet or Pride & Prejudice. Still, anyone CAN come along and produce their own adaptations of the original stories created be S and JA – as Marvel recently did with the GNs of Pride & Prejudice, Senses & Sensibility, etc. No entity, like WB or Disney or any other corporation could STOP someone else’s new production of materials based on those characters. Would that be so bad? DC could go on publishing Superman comics, but so could anyone else. Then the public can choose which version they want to buy.

        I’m just glad the heirs of Siegel and Shuster — who had absolutely NOTHING whatever to do with the creation of Superman or the perpetuation of his mythos for over 74 years — have no legal authority to PREVENT DC continuing to use the name, image, etc.

  9. haha the original creators sold the rights for $25 (around $2000 today i think) in the 1930s

  10. Mikey, the thing is, Warner Bros owns DC Comics. The history behind that is in 1969, DC, or as it was still called back then, National Publications, merged with Warner Bros Arts. Years later, in 1989, Warner Communications, which still owned DC Comics as its publishers, merged with Time Inc. to form TimeWarner. And for years, DC Comics published its comics, as a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Entertainment, until in 09, DC Entertainment was formed and the comics became a subsidiary of THAT. So the sad fact of reality is, that DC Comics has been owned by the studio for years.

    But in dealing with the whole issue of the lawsuits that have happened for years between the company and Jerry and Joe’s heirs, stems back to the years after the guys had been kicked off the Superman comics. In 1975 they lobbied against DC to raise awareness of how unfairly the had been treated by the company. This became a big deal in the 70s, and ultimately, the guys won out (and paved the way for more and more creators getting recognition for creating such amazing characters), the company agreed to pay them both 20 grand a year, 20 grand each I might add, for the rest of their lives, and all Superman media, for all time, would carry the credit “created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster”. Joe died in 92, Jerry died in 96, and in 99, Jerry’s wife began the now many years long legal battle against the company by first filing a copyright termination notice. But can I say something here, I don’t think Jerry and Joe would have wanted to take the characters away from the company, and away from the readers. All they wanted was to be given a monetary pie of the pie, and be recognized for creating such a great character. Again, that is what I feel they would have wanted, but am I right? Maybe I am, and maybe I’m not. But to have their grandkids and the families still wanting to have the character and everything associated with him back, they’re honestly coming off as greedy. Superman is a character that was created by two teens from Ohio, embodying everything they loved from the pulps and science fiction, coupled with a good moral code and forthright urge to use his powers for the betterment of mankind. All these years later, he is one of the most recognizable characters in comics, he is an inspiration as a hero to so many kids, teens and adults who read his adventures in the comics, or watched the cartoons on TV or watch his movies. And by continuing this lawsuit, the families risk taking all that away from the fans, all because they want to have the character back.

    • Yeah, what could they do with the character if they’d won the case? Take him away from DC? Where else would they go? Who else would want to publish that?

  11. It seems kind of unfair for people to sit back and rake in cash just because one of their ancestors created something popular 70+ years ago.

    If the family carried the brand and did creative things with it (like carrying forward a family company) that’s one thing, but if they want to benefit just because of their family ties then that seems kind of shady.

  12. Actually inside man, I just looked this up, the original check that was written shows that the guys were paid 130 dollars between the two of them. To us today, that’s not a lot. For two young guys from Ohio during the Depression, with the promise of more money working for the company, getting to do what they loved, writing and drawing, it must have seemed like a lot.

  13. Considering the way DC screwed Siegel and Schuster, they should definitely have a claim on the property

  14. A lot of Comic Creators don’t get their worth of their creation. Jack Kirby Should have been given credit, instead of always ” Stan Lee this, or that.” They both worked and helped created amazing characters during those years at Marvel. So do I think the heirs of these or Superman copyright deserve anything, at least their name when the film starts, or maybe like Stan Lee with a walk on appearance scene. Lawsuits are a touchy thing, I like the idea that the material should not be totally owned by one company like DC. It should be Public Property after so many years, like Mikey said. Good Point!

  15. Seriously? A couple of kids cut a “deal” in the late 1930’s for a creation that goes on to generate billions in revenue and they get $20K a year? You can make that flipping burgers. It’s unconscionable that the big corporate entities who rake in the profits aren’t taking care of the creator’s families. A work for hire agreement seems reasonable on creations like Devil Dinosaur or Kamandi, but when one becomes a global brand, companies with ethics should be sharing the wealth.

  16. This is so not cool. But it is not the first nor the last case. Big corporations will always try to screw over the creators. The comic book artist have a (sad) joke, “You got Fingered” based on that case where Bob Kane got all the credit for Batman, and Finger got nothing.

  17. “Credit” doesn’t pay the bills. “Petty bickering?” We’re talking about millions and millions of dollars…not chump change.

    But let’s keep things in perspective. Who cares what happens as long as it doesn’t inconvenience R.T.

    • And why is Superman worth “millions and millions of dollars”? Because DC continues to publish the stories of the character they made famous. Without DC, there’s no guarantee that Superman becomes the icon that he is. Why do heirs who had nothing to do with the creation or care-taking of the property have any rights to free money?

  18. Maybe DC comics can finally nix this stupid N52 business that was a result of this!

    • Please don’t, I’m enjoying it.

  19. + 100000

  20. No surprise at the result. Face it….. The only real superheroes at WB are lawyers (and accountants).

    I know that if I made my own Superman movie and tried to put it out there, WB’s lawyers would move “faster than a speeding bullet” to sue the crap out of me.

    Intellectual property laws should work the same way as they do in literature. Anybody can make a movie based on the works of Shakespeare without getting sued right?

    • That’s because Shakespeare’s works are in public domain. But there are always those awful spoof movies.

    • Actually, “anyone” can only for works that have come into the public domain…I guarantee you that the Michael Crichtons (at least, when he was still alive), Stephen Kings, and J.K Rowlings of the world DO have to be consulted (and/or compensated) when their works are used for films…depending, at least, on what kind of rights they and/or their publishers have and have retained.

      Also, remember this corporate stinginess extends from WB/DC through Disney/Marvel to the Image creators (think MiracleMan…Todd McFarlane).

    • @Heustis

      Back then, there was no copyright law and even if there was, copyright only lasts 75 years maximum, then it’s a free for all for the rights or public domain.

  21. Even though they signed their rights away it would be nice if Warner set up a foundation for the family or something with a little of the profits they make. Its not like its going to bankrupt Warner.
    In general, it leaves a real sour taste knowing that the creative force behind something so iconic can be so easily and willingly tossed aside for future profiteers.
    Truly sad.
    What if our beloved “Stars and Stripes” song was now owned by Kanye and we no longer looked back at where it came from?

    • It wouldn’t be owned by Kanye because it’s public domain and that kind of property has special protection so that everyone can use it for non-profit.

      Besides, it would belong to the British since I think it was one of our composers who wrote your national anthem.

      • The lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key, who was on the American side. I believe the music itself was adapted from some English pub song. Thus, the anthem would likely still be owned by the Americans…if the issue would ever have arisen.

        Also, there is the fact that the Colonies were breaking away from England, so I doubt very much that they would care in the slightest about any claim King George III and his cronies might make on the ownership of a song written specifically about rebellion.

        …and Gott in Himmel, never should someone as obnoxiously arrogant as Kanye EVER hold sway over something so symbolically important.

  22. Where do I get my “sequels not Siegels” t-shirt.

    • oops–“radiation” (spelling).

  23. I don’t care

    • Then what compelled you to read the article and submit a comment?

      • Probably a strong desire to post a comment, regardless if it applies to the article or any of the other comments.

    • Your chosen screen name does NOT help you seem sincere. As for DC sinking, where are getting THAT from? The very successful Superman film relaunch? The popular “Arrow” TV show? The continuously developing multiverse of the New52? Poisonous mushrooms?

      MY guess would be from that last item…nasty things, those hallucinogenic fungi.

      Quite a few people loved the intriguing MOS and are enjoying the New52…THEY don’t seem to be calling YOU $tupid…

      Switch to decaf…calm down…enjoy the ride as the DCU keeps growing.

  24. Whoa whoa calm down there dude…seriously calm down in my personal opinion DC is stupid because of the new 52 and how they’re turning iconic cultural heroes into big jerks…did I ever mention arrow or MOS? NO I didn’t Im the biggest Superman fan ever and I loved MOS so please just stop on that one…Im calling DC stupid…not anyone specific and my screen name has NOTHING to do with my comment because one I love Lois and two Lex Luthor…what does my name have to do with being sincere…I wasnt asked to be taken sincere thank you very much

    • Hmmm, perhaps I could have lightened the TONE of my response. I apologize for any perceived snark. I do, however, stand by my PERCEPTION of the way in which you expressed your thoughts…with ONE exception: Instead of mentioning the possible feeling of the readers/viewers of the DC materials, I should have, more to the point I was making, mentioned the plausible (though obviously unlikely) reactions of the creators/publisher. As for your name not lessening the impact of your perceived sincerity, you claim yourself a Superman fan but purposefully name yourself after a scenario that would very likely give the Man of Steel nightmares…his true love married to his arch-nemesis.

      Finally, in terms of being ASKED to be considered sincere or to be taken seriously, welcome to ScreenRANT…and in greater part to the Internet, as a whole.

  25. There is a new book out, Holding Kryptonite, that is worth checking out for anyone who has an interest in this story.

    It is story of Siegel and Shuster’s relationship with DC, told by the actual correspondence that they wrote back and forth. Apparently a few years ago the lawyer who represented the two of them back when they originally sued National Publications/DC in 47 has saved all the paperwork, and when he died, all his papers ended up in the trash, and a young lawyer found them…

    • An interesting thing in the story that gets forgotten – Jerry and Joe made almost a half a millon Dollars between 1938 and 1947 writing and drawing Superman and other comics, well above the national average income, and most other creators doing work for hire for DC

  26. Gotta be careful,about what you sign