The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal today ruled in Warner Bros.‘ favor in the long standing copyright battle with the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel that there was a binding agreement in 2001 giving the studio full rights to the superhero character. The ruling (read it here) Thursday is basically a green light for Warner Bros. to now move forward with its Superman big screen reboot Man of Steel and other related properties without the specter of further legal action from Laura Siegel Larson and the creators’ other heirs hanging over them like Kryptonite. “Today’s ruling vindicates DC Comics’ long-held position that it entered into a binding agreement with the Jerry Siegel family in 2001. The Court’s decision paves the way for the Siegels finally to receive the compensation they negotiated for and which DC has been prepared to pay for over a decade. We are extremely pleased that Superman’s adventures can continue to be enjoyed across all media platforms worldwide for generations to come,” said Warner Bros in a statement Thursday.
The 9th Circuit’s ruling today admonished a previous lower court decision that denied the claims of Warner Bros-owned DC Comics that they had a deal over a decade ago with the Siegel heirs. “The district judge erred in granting summary judgment to Larson as to DC’s third and fourth counterclaims. The central issue in these counterclaims is whether the parties reached a binding settlement agreement during their negotiations over the rights to Superman in 2001 and 2002. The district judge, however, failed to address whether the October 19, 2001, letter from Larson’s then-attorney constituted an acceptance of terms negotiated between the parties, and thus was sufficient to create a contract. We hold, as a matter of law, that the October 19, 2001, letter did constitute such an acceptance,” said the trio of judges on the appeal panel today. The panel then threw the issue back to the district judge to reconsider DC’s other claims. “Because a judgment on those claims in DC’s favor would appear to render moot all of the other questions in this lawsuit, we decline to address these other issues at this time,” the six-page ruling added. Through the courts, the estate of Jerry Siegel had recaptured half of the original Superman rights in 2008, with the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013. A ruling in October by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright III said that an agreement the estate of Joe Shuster signed 20 years ago with DC Comics rules out any effort by his heirs to terminate the copyright granted to the Warner Bros-owned company Today’s ruling pretty much does the same to the Siegel heirs.
Also today, the 9th Circuit panel agreed (read the ruling here) with Judge Wright that because the estate’s lawyer Marc 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 statute. The statute is designed to protect rights owners against legal intimidation. This ruling today paves the way for WB to proceed with further legal action against the attorney. Warner Bros are represented by Daniel Petrocelli and Matthew Kline of LA firm O’Melveny & Myers. Laura Siegel Larson and the estate of Jerry Siegel are represented by attorney Toberoff and Richard Kendall of Kendall Brill & Klieger.