Warner Bros’ long legal battle with the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel moved closer to a final resolution this week. On Wednesday US District Judge Otis Wright III issued an order (read it here) granting the studio and its subsidiary DC Comics a partial summary judgment in cases brought by Laura Siegel Larson and the estate of Joanne Siegel. The order confirms WB and DC’s long contention that a 2001 agreement with the heirs granted them the rights to the Man from Krypton. In a sense, it is a bit anti-climactic. A January ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2008 ruling that the Siegel heirs still controlled the lucrative rights to Superman and his younger self Superboy because a binding agreement was never reached by the parties in 2001 as WB and DC claim. The studio has been incrementally fighting that ruling over the last four years and getting some real traction in the last several months. In a February filing for summary judgment, WB and DC asked the judge to reconfirm the earlier ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that basically gave them full rights to the superhero character and the freedom to move forward with its Superman big screen reboot Man Of Steel and other related properties without the threat of any more legal action by the creators’ heirs and estates. “DC brings the issue back before the Court on remand by way of its February 7, 2013 Motion for Summary Judgment. DC contends quite simply that the ‘Ninth Circuit’s binding ruling compels judgment in DC’s favor on its Fourth Counterclaim in both Siegel cases; renders DC’s remaining counterclaims in the cases moot . . . While DC perhaps overstates the simplicity of the matter, it is nevertheless correct that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling obliges the Court to grant its fourth counterclaim,” wrote Judge Wright on March 20.
The case however isn’t entirely over. The heirs and their lawyer Marc Toberoff could file a further suit. There’s also the issue of some advertisements. “What may preclude immediate closure of this chapter of the continuing Superman saga, however, is the lingering issue of what to do with Superboy and the early Superman ads,” noted Wright. The judge wants an “additional briefing on the effect of the October 19, 2001 agreement on the Superboy and early Superman ad works.” Warner Bros is 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.