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'Superman' Lawsuit Delayed by Appeal

EXCLUSIVE: Today a key battle was supposed to be waged in the war over the future of Superman.  

But instead of a heated courtroom showdown, the judge overseeing the case has delayed the matter as lawyers for Warner Bros. and the heirs of Superman co-creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel await an appeal of a procedural ruling. 

As you’ll recall, Warners and its DC Comics division are embroiled in an epic fight over rights to the Man of Steel. After a judge ruled a few years back that the studio might lose certain copyrights associated with the character, Warners went on the offensive. The studio hired aggressive new lawyers and sued Marc Toberoff, attorney for the Siegels and Shusters, claiming Toberoff improperly convinced the families to back out of deals and terminate their lucrative copyright assignments relating to Superman. 

In fighting back at that lawsuit, Toberoff filed a bunch of motions seeking to dismiss the complaint and have it declared a violation of his free speech rights under California's anti-SLAPP law. Warners then amended its lawsuit slightly, prompting Toberoff to file his motions again. But the judge ruled the anti-SLAPP motion moot due to the amended complaint.

Still with us? It's pretty complicated, but in a nutshell, as Warners pressed forward with its case, including noticing the depositions of the Siegel and Shuster heirs, Toberoff appealed the order saying the anti-SLAPP motion was mooted. And Friday, on the eve of a scheduled hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright, the judge stayed the entire case against Toberoff pending resolution of that appeal.

That means the studio’s controversial litigation against Toberoff sits on ice temporarily. How long? Appeals can take as long as 18 months but Warners can file a motion to dismiss the appeal, which could speed things up. Still, as the studio ramps up production of its latest Superman movie, the future of the character remains very much in question.  

Both Toberoff and Warners' lead attorney Daniel Petrocelli declined to comment.