I don’t understand why the Warner Bros lot wasn’t draped in black starting the middle of this week. Because the studio should be mourning the imminent loss of a shitload of Superman dollars. I’ve finally got my hands on the entire 72-page ruling Wednesday of U.S. District Court Judge Stephen G. Larson who concluded: “After 70 years, Jerome Siegel’s heirs regain what he granted so long ago — the copyright in the Superman material that was published in Action Comics, Vol. 1. What remains is an apportionment of profits, guided in some measure by the rulings contained in this Order, and a trial on whether to include the profits generated by DC Comics’ corporate sibling’s exploitation of the Superman.”
Think about it: Siegel sold the rights to the action hero he created with Joseph Shuster to Detective Comics for $130, and his heirs got back ownership of the character in 1999 and can possibly lay claim to $50+ million of Warner Bros’ and/or its DC Comics’ cash. The Shusters look to clean up before too long, too. If you want all the Superman lawsuit’s juicy background, Portfolio‘s Amy Wallace did a detailed article here.
For instance, Joanne Siegel (who’d been the sketch model for Lois Lane) wrote a 3-page letter back in 2002 to then Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons calling the company “greedy” and “heartless” and acting “just like the Gestapo … your company wants to strip us naked of our legal rights… Is that the reputation you want?” The answer is a resounding yes. Because for years Warner tied with Disney for its aggressive unwillingness to settle these kinds of legal disputes and its absurd eagerness to risk going to court. Its corporate counsel would hire litigation piranhas hungry for billable hours who pledge to make each case go away by exhausting the patience and resources of the creators or rightsholders. It’s a thoroughly effective but completely disgusting way of doing business.
Yet it’s interesting that, especially lately, Warner has lost or settled some very pricey lawsuits, especially those pursued by that Malibu Robin Hood of a litigator, Marc Toberoff, who has taken on Big Media on behalf of creators and their heirs for Superman and Superboy, The Dukes of Hazzard (read about it here), The Wild Wild West, It’s Alive, and so on. The majors both fear him and hate him, with good reason: he’s a relentless opportunist, which is exactly what’s needed.
Finally, lest any rabid Superman fans blame the Siegels or Shusters for fucking up a Superman Returns sequel, or a Justice League of America movie featuring Superman (or not), know this: Warner execs fucked up both all by themselves. There’s been enough backstory surrounding these pics to fill a book. I say there wouldn’t have been if only Superman Returns had been any good…