Freelance journalist Dominic Patten is a Deadline contributor
In a strategic move in the copyright battle between Warner Bros and the heirs to Superman’s creators, the studio has filed an appeal to reverse earlier rulings in the case and put everything out in open court in a trial. “This long-running dispute should be brought to an end,” Warner Bros wrote in a dense 117-page appeal (read it here) filed Friday with the 9th Circuit Court. In typical Hollywood legalities, the move actually resolves nothing — expect to see a response from the heirs and then another back from Warner Bros, and all off it to end up one way or another in the Appellate Court sometime in the late summer or early fall.
Through the courts, the estate of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel recaptured half of the original Superman rights in 2008, with the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013. Warner Bros, which owns longtime Superman publisher DC Comics, disagrees with those decisions. “This case is about the ownership of copyright in the earliest comics that introduced elements of the iconic Superman character and story,” the appeal from Warners lawyer Daniel Petrocelli states. “The case presents an unusually broad array of doctrinal, factual, and procedural issues. But much of the case reduces to a familiar proposition: a deal is a deal.”
Warners contends that Laura Siegel Larson, the heir to the Siegel estate, “reneged” on a copyright deal with DC that “guaranteed the family many millions of dollars in cash, royalties, and other compensation.” In its call to have the issue decided by trial, the studio says “the family asserted there was no deal without a long form and the district court agreed, casting aside established California contract law principles — principles essential to the entertainment industry, where many business deals are never formalized.” The latest legal move by Warner Bros follows a win last year in the matter, when Judge Otis Wright tossed out a First Amendment suit by Marc Toberoff, a rights lawyer for the heirs.
None of this will have any immediate effect on the upcoming Zack Snyder-directed Superman reboot Man Of Steel, scheduled to be released June 14, 2013, or any potential sequels from that property.