The long ongoing copyright case over who owns the rights to Superman just got very personal. Attorneys for Warner Bros (which owns DC Comics) late Wednesday night claimed Superman heirs attorney Marc Toberoff has “systematically suppressed relevant evidence” and filed a motion (read it here) against the lawyer and the estates of the superhero’s co-creators. The filing seeks terminating sanctions and an evidentiary hearing for November 12. But this morning, Deadline was given a letter (original here) in response from Laura Siegel Larson — the daughter of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and Joanne Siegel, who served as the original model for Lois Lane. Larson, herself a retired award-winning journalist now suffering from multiple sclerosis, says she will never give up “fighting for what’s right”. She charges that Warner Bros has spent $35 million on corporate attorneys who now include Daniel Petrocelli, Matthew Kline and Cassandra Seto of O’Melveny & Myers. Here it is edited (and follows one written by her late mother directly to Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes):
October 11, 2012
Dear Superman Fans Everywhere,
My father, Jerry Siegel, co-created Superman as the “champion of the oppressed … sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!” But sadly his dying wish, for his family to regain his rightful share of Superman, has become a cautionary tale for writers and artists everywhere.
My family’s David and Goliath struggle against Warner Bros, the media conglomerate, goes back to April 1997, when my mom and I exercised our clear right under the Copyright Act to achieve my dad’s dream of recovering his copyrights. In April 1999, my dad’s half of the original Superman rights reverted to us, entitling our family to a significant share of Superman profits, which Warner/DC Comics refused to pay. For over thirteen years they have fought us at every turn, in and out of court, aiming to make recovery of the money they owe us so impossibly difficult that we would give up and settle for peanuts.
We refused to be intimidated despite my elderly mom’s heart condition and my multiple sclerosis. In 2008 the U.S. District Court ruled that my mom and I had successfully recaptured my father’s Superman copyrights and were entitled to Superman profits since April 1999.
Angered and alarmed by this defeat, Warner Bros resorted to a despicable old trick: diverting attention from the legal merits of our case by personally attacking our long-time lawyer, Marc Toberoff. Through DC, the media giant filed a lawsuit against Mr. Toberoff, my family and the Estate of Superman’s co-creator Joe Shuster, falsely claiming “unfair competition” and that Toberoff interfered with an out of court offer that Warner tried to push on my mom and me in early 2002 – an offer full of studio accounting traps that we refused to sign before we even knew Mr. Toberoff.
Warner Bros possesses documents stolen from my attorney’s office which mysteriously ended up on the desks of three top Warner executives. Warner claims it has no evidence whatsoever as to when these large packages arrived. According to Warner, the thief also included a cowardly anonymous letter that vilifies our attorney and mischaracterizes the privileged attorney-client communications enclosed. In a disgraceful violation of my privacy, Warner’s lawyers attached this nasty anonymous letter to a publicly filed complaint and leaked it to the media.
In the midst of this sideshow, my mom, the original model for Lois Lane, passed away last year at 93, still determined to keep her promise to my dad. She never got to relax and enjoy any proceeds from the crusade she fought until her dying day.
Now the torch is in my hands and I won’t be silent any longer about Warner Bros’ tactics. I refuse to be bullied or deterred from enforcing my farnily’s rights, and fully support my attorney who has tirelessly defended them. Warner Bros’ smear campaign has only made me more determined than ever. We have the right to the attorney of our choice, which is none of Warner’s business…
What Warner Bros apparently doesn’t realize is that despite their tremendous power, I will NEVER give up on my parents’ dream of rightfully restoring my father’s rights to his family.
Would Superman, the embodiment of “truth, justice and the American way,” let Warner Bros, DC Comics, and their gang of attorneys get away with this? Not for an instant!
Laura Siegel Larson
Los Angeles, California
Meanwhile, Warner Bros’ 32-page motion accuses Toberoff and the Siegel and Shuster heirs: “Defendants refused to disclose the existence or nature of key evidence; submitted false and misleading privilege logs to mask or conceal non-privileged documents; and made affirmative misrepresentations — including under oath — about the existence, location, and provenance of evidence.” In 2004, Toberoff representing the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel sued DC Comics and Warner Bros over the rights to the man from Krypton. In May 2010, the studio sued Toberoff directly. Wednesday’s motion, which is part of that 2010 suit, claims “Toberoff acted predominantly as a businessman and entrepreneur, while invoking his status as a lawyer purposefully to shield relevant evidence.” In April, the Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit rejected Toberoff’s move to use attorney-client privilege to keep documents pertinent to the copyright case secret. WB/DC claim that material revealed from that ruling include letters from the Siegels’ previous lawyer asserting that there was deal between the heirs and the studios, as well 2003 correspondence between the heirs, talking about Toberoff’s “bogus” promise of a billionaire who wanted to invest $15 million in the Superman copyright.