Warner Bros. has been embroiled in legal troubles regarding the copyright of Superman (and derivative properties like Superboy) more times than they’ve made successful Superman films.* Most damningly, in 2008, a federal court ruled that the heirs of Jerry Siegel - co-creator of Superman - could reclaim 50% of Superman’s rights in 2013.
Now, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright has ruled that the heirs of Superman’s other creator - Joe Shuster - have no claim to those rights, as Jean Peavy, Shuster’s sister, struck a deal with DC Comics in 1992 covering her late brother’s debts (in addition to paying her $25,000 every year for the rest of her life).
In the deal, DC’s then Executive Vice President, Paul Levitz, warned Peavy that by taking the deal she’d be "fully resolv[ing] any past, present or future claims against DC."
You can read the full ruling over at The Hollywood Reporter, but that’s the gist. Joe Shuster’s heirs, for the foreseeable future, will have no claim to Superman and the rights thereof.
I’m sure we’ll hear a collective sigh of relief (or some sort of ‘hurrah’) from those fans who think that Joe Shuster’s heirs are just being greedy and don’t deserve the Superman rights. And, on the other end of the spectrum, creators’ rights activists will probably be considerably less thrilled. Still, had Jean Peavy never signed a pact with DC in 1992, the Shuster heirs’ attempt to recapture Superman’s rights might’ve had a clearer path to success.
With all that said, this ruling has no bearing whatsoever on the federal court’s previous ruling that Jerry Siegel’s heirs could reclaim 50% of Superman’s rights - including the origin story, the iconic costume, Clark Kent, and everything else from Action Comics #1 (which would leave Warner Bros. things like Lex Luthor, the power of flight, and Kryptonite).
Warner Bros., of course, is appealing that decision, and a hearing on the matter (and various other claims) will take place on November 5th, 2012.
The next Superman film - Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder and starring Henry Cavill as Superman himself - is in post-production currently and hits theaters June 14th, 2013.
(*But perhaps not as many times as they've made unsuccessful Superman films? Zing.)
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Source: The Hollywood Reporter
Header image drawn by John Cassaday