Ruling on behalf of Warner Bros., a federal judge on Tuesday rejected copyright lawyer Marc Toberoff’s claims that his actions as lawyer for heirs of the co-creators of Superman were protected against legal interference. In so doing the judge allowed Warner Bros.’ lawsuit against Toberoff to move forward. The judge also granted Warner Bros access to a July 2003 letter from Laura Siegel to her late brother Michael. Warner Bros. outside counsel Daniel Petrocelli is seeking to undo Toberoff’s relationship with the heirs of Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster by accusing the attorney of interfering as a competing business owner in agreements the studio and DC had made with the heirs.
Petrocelli was hired to come up with a strategy to prevent the studio from possibly losing a portion of the copyright to Superman in 2013 as a court has previously ruled. Petrocelli filed the current lawsuit last May to put Toberoff in a position where he might have to resign as the attorney for the Siegels and Shusters. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright found that the studio’s argument “makes sense.” He ruled that because Toberoff had established business arrangements through his own company Pacific Pictures with heirs of Siegel and Shuster, he was not protected under California’s anti-SLAAP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute that protects rights owners against legal intimidation. Wright rejected Toberoff’s anti-SLAPP argument, ruling that he was acting in his capacity as a businessman, not a lawyer, through Pacific Pictures — specifically concerning exploitation of Joe Shuster’s creations.
At stake is whether Warner Bros. can proceed with future exploitations of the rights to Superman. Deadline reported earlier this year that in 2013, the Siegel heirs and the estate of co-creator Shuster will own a portion of the original copyright to Superman — “and neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros. will be able to exploit any new Superman works without a license from the Siegels and Shusters.” The heirs of Siegel have already been awarded half the copyright for Superman. In 2013 the heirs of co-creator Shuster get the remaining half.