Looks like Warner Bros is finally free of the last copyright Kryptonite plaguing its ownership of Superman. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today handed the studio another legal win in its battle with the estates of the Man of Steel’s co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – and the court did it with some degree of humor. “In this appeal, we address another chapter in the long-running saga regarding the ownership of copyrights in Superman — a story almost as old as the Man of Steel himself,” said the court’s memorandum today (read it here) reaffirming an earlier ruling for WB by district Judge Otis Wright III. “We are obviously very pleased with the court’s decision,” said a WB spokesperson in an understatement today. The Appeals Court decision was 2-1, with Judges Stephen Reinhardt and John Sedwick in the majority and Judge Sidney Runyan Thomas dissenting. The 9th Circuit also makes a point of admonishing the estates and their lawyer Marc Toberoff for playing hide and seek with certain facts. The attorney was additionally involved in pursuing an effort with the heirs to create new Superman pics and properties via his Pacific Pictures company if the rights were secured back from WB. “We note that their failure (and that of Toberoff, their attorney and business partner) to disclose this information in the 2003 notice of termination itself appears to violate the relevant regulations governing notices of termination,” the ruling says.
While not holding up this summer’s Man Of Steel blockbuster or seriously threatening any such sequels, today’s decision removes any final hindrance the studio could have faced in further Superman or Superboy properties. On the other hand, this particular decision has been a long time coming as the appeal was argued in Pasadena on May 23 of this year.
DC Comics and its corporate parent WB have insisted in the decade since Shuster heir Mark Peary filed a copyright termination notice in 2003 that a dense 1992 agreement with Shuster’s siblings, in which to be compensated for life, delivered all Superman rights to them. A similar battle occurred over the multi-million dollar 2001 agreement between WB and Laura Siegel Larson and the estate of Joanne Siegel granting them the rights to Superman character. The Siegel estate also attempted to institute a copyright termination notice. After a rollercoaster of a legal struggle, the courts found in WB’s favor earlier this year in the Siegel case. Today’s WB victory comes over 11 months after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal handed the studio a big legal win in their battle with the Siegel heirs. That win essentially closed the (comic) book on the matter with today removing any last obstacles. In theory, Toberoff could try to ask for a rehearing from the panel or an en banc review of the entire Circuit or even petition the Supreme Court, but there is little chance at this point it would go that far in any case. Warner Bros and DC were represented, as they have been throughout this case, by Daniel Petrocelli and Matthew Kline of LA firm O’Melveny & Myers