March 23, 2011 5:06pm PT by Matthew Belloni
Superman Legal Fight Heats Up As New Appeal Sought
As Warner Bros.’ big-budget reboot Superman: Man of Steel finally takes off under the guidance of director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan, the long-running battle over who owns the Man of Steel is entering a new phase.
The nasty dispute between Warners and the heirs of co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster stems from a 2008 court ruling that the Siegels are entitled to terminate the copyrights to some—but not all—of Superman’s defining characteristics, such as his costume, Clark Kent and his origin story, as described in the first editions of Action Comics.
Throughout years of legal maneuvers (including Warners’ still-pending lawsuit against the heirs’ lawyer Marc Toberoff for allegedly interfering with contracts), it has never been determined whether the Shusters and Siegels can take back other key elements of the Superman mythology, such as Lex Luthor and Kryptonite.
That makes it difficult for Toberoff and his clients to peddle Superman rights to another studio (and pressure Warners into a settlement). So he’s now appealing the limited grant of rights to the 9th Circuit, hoping that the appeals court will finally determine who owns what.
”It’s cutting to the chase,” Toberoff us, adding “it is widely recognized that Judge Larson’s rulings on summary judgment largely favored the Siegels in upholding the validity of their termination as to Action Comics No.1, containing the core Superman format and characters.”
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on Warner Bros, which could lose certain rights to the character in 2013 (the reboot is scheduled to hit theaters in 2012 but future films would be in jeopardy). The studio and lead lawyer Daniel Petrocelli can breathe easier for awhile, though. The financial issues with the Siegels and Shusters will be on hold pending the latest appeal.
“DC Comics and Warner Bros. are fully confident that the trial court's rulings against the Siegels are correct and will be affirmed on appeal,” the studio tells us in a statement.