Warner Bros. Wins Superman Lawsuit, Just in Time for Man of Steel

Up, up and away with a lawsuit that could have entangled future Superman projects

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Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures

Henry Cavill as Superman

Superman may stand for truth, justice and the American way, but in recent years he’s been concentrating on justice. The question of who owns Superman—and the right to make money off the character—has been the subject of ongoing court battles for years, but the latest move in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 10 gave Warner Bros. (which owns DC comics) a super-sized leg up. The decision comes mere months before the June 14, 2013, opening of the latest Superman movie, Warner Bros.’ Man of Steel.

You can read the full ruling over at Deadline, but here’s a quick run-down of the situation. Superman was created by Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster in the 1930s and, according to The Hollywood Reporter, they sold the rights to the character for far less than he was worth early on. Then, in 1976, the new Copyright Act included provisions to give copyrights back to artists who had sold them in the course of unfair bargaining. Using that law, the creators’ estates won a 2008 case that gave them the right to Superman’s backstory, as described in his first comic book appearance, as well as other elements of the character. Based on that decision, Warner Bros. would have to share the profits from franchise products like Man of Steel. However, in 2001, before the estates’ current lawyer, Marc Toberoff, stepped in, Warner Bros. had negotiated a deal with Jerome Siegel’s widow that would constitute fair compensation with fair bargaining for the rights her late husband had sold.

(MOREMarvel’s 2010 Legal Battle for Spider-Man)

On appeal, the court has now decided that the 2001 deal had not been properly considered in the 2008 Copyright Act lawsuit. Based on a letter between Siegel’s widow’s lawyer and DC, which went over the terms of the agreement, the court found that both sides had already accepted the deal. A separate but similar 2012 lawsuit also found that Joseph Shuster, Siegel’s co-creator, could not recapture his rights, due to a 1992 agreement along the lines of the 2001 Siegel-WB deal. (A 2010 lawsuit on the part of Warner Bros. said that Toberoff—who denied that the 2001 agreement was legally binding—had personally and tortiously soured the relationship between the estates and the studio. That lawsuit, which had been held up, was also given the go-ahead yesterday.)

So, in short, Warner Bros. owns Superman and they can do whatever they want with him. He’ll continue to leap tall buildings into the future, and they’ll continue to make money from him. For now, at least: the New York Times reports that Siegel’s heirs could still take the case to the Supreme Court.

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly implied that the 2010 lawsuit on the part of Warner Bros. against Toberoff was a criminal suit; it is a civil suit.

4 comments
DorothyHans
DorothyHans

This movie was expected anxiously for long time  you had great actors you change the race of one maine character for no reason insult the superhero  put him in a sissy suit and kids and seniors couldn't  see the movie for the dark format it only took few to premier the movie and broadcast their disappointment with the awful language and the total distortion of the character with long beard plus ugly dress that had to wear Russell Crow the looks like a birdied circus woman I'am a collector and a SUPERMAN fan for a long long time

DorothyHans
DorothyHans

This is a crapy movie lost in a demented smile of Zack Snider which shows the poor imagination  of the writer also starts a trailer of troglodyte or a homeless man floating in a pool of excrement and piece of it  excreting of his own with the background of a poorly create halloween sound the dark suit and movie  and falmouth complements the stupidity expressions of morons distorting the bright shiny  image of the most popular superhero  even the toys  are not a good sales for kids and collectors you better go back to the basis of the creationist and don't change the originality  you had millions lost for your own stupidity don't expect the sequel to have success 

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

Truly a problem in the US is the seemingly endless amount of litigation that is in the courts.  Here, both Shuster and Siegel had made one deal (their original deal where they were perhaps underpaid...I say perhaps because when you sell anything, say an investment, art, etc., you are taking the bird in the hand instead of the two in the bush, you don't know if the value will go up or down...who knew in the 30's the future value?).  Then their estates made second deals, again getting maybe fair value at the time, and then they come back again, and being denied they might go to the SCOTUS?   If S&S had been overpaid on either of their two deals, would Warner be asking for money back?  Maybe, but they'd be up the creek.  How many people have sold things that crashed in value afterwards.  Whatever happened to the idea that a transaction had risk associated with it?  I hope SCOTUS does not hear the case if brought to them, it is time for this story to end.   Or maybe I can get back land my great grandparents sold in the 30's because they needed the money?  It's worth a lot more now!  The indians want Manhattan also.

Perhaps now with the legal matters aside (?) DC can unleash Superman to gain back a generation lost to Marvel characters.

arahantzz
arahantzz

@notLostInSpace You misunderstood how this works, they arn't able to redo the deal only because its now worth alot more money, pretty much all investments work on the principle of buying something with the hope of it going up in value... if that happening was grounds for the original owner to get his property back... half of the economy wouldn't work.

It states in the article that the first time they renegotiated the deal was because of a new law that works with artists who signed deals during the course of "Unfair bargaining", its not completely clear what that means but it seems that they sold it for alot less then what was the fair value at that time, not what the value would become.


The later lawsuits are related to the legality of the new deal based on different principles, basically there is so much money at stake that both sides are going to try and fight in court to get as much rights(money) as possible.