Warner Bros and the Superman rights battle

News Simon Brew
18 Oct 2012 - 07:16

There have been two developments in the battle for the rights to Superman this week. And here they are...

The ongoing battle over the rights to Superman between Warner Bros and the Siegel and Shuster families will be familiar to many of you. The basics are that Superman was created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel back in 1938. Since then, while Superman has gone on to be a billion dollar business, Shuster and Siegel, as a result of agreements they’ve had in place many decades ago, have seen barely a scratch of that. They fought, and their heirs have fought, for what they believe to be their rightful share of the Superman copyright.

We will go into this in more depth in the near future, appreciating we’ve glossed over a very complex story.

A more recent pivotal event happened in 2009 when the original half of the Superman rights eventually reverted back to Jerry Siegel’s family. This allowed the family a share of Superman profits, and at one stage looked to threaten Warner Bros pursuing its new movie, Man Of Steel, which is now set for release next summer.

However, this week, there’s been a further turn or two.

Firstly, Laura Siegel Larson, Jerry Siegel’s daughter, issued an open letter to the fans of Superman, explaining her position, and her thoughts on Warner Bros’ tactics. It was pretty damning, too. You can find it in full at the bottom of the post.

The letter presumably was published with an inclination as to what was to come though, as we now learn that Warner Bros has won an appeal against the ruling that gives the co-creators of Superman part ownership of the rights. The gist is that because DC Comics agreed a deal that gave Shuster and Siegel annual pension payments of $20,000 some time ago, that this means they no longer have a financial right to part of the Superman character. Again, this is a simplifcation of the story, that we will be exploring in more detail. It’s a pretty ugly situation.

The immediate impact of the new ruling is that Warner Bros and DC gets the full rights to Superman, and that it’s full steam ahead for the company. Where the families of Siegel and Shuster go from here is less clear, but as Laura Siegel Larson says in her letter, “What Warner Bros apparently doesn’t realize is that despite their tremendous power, I will NEVER give up on my parents’ dream of rightfully restoring my father’s rights to his family”.

Here’s that letter in full, and we’ll have more on the story as we get it…

"Dear Superman Fans Everywhere,

My father, Jerry Siegel, co-created Superman as the “champion of the oppressed … sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!” But sadly his dying wish, for his family to regain his rightful share of Superman, has become a cautionary tale for writers and artists everywhere.

My family’s David and Goliath struggle against Warner Bros, the media conglomerate, goes back to April 1997, when my mom and I exercised our clear right under the Copyright Act to achieve my dad’s dream of recovering his copyrights. In April 1999, my dad’s half of the original Superman rights reverted to us, entitling our family to a significant share of Superman profits, which Warner/DC Comics refused to pay. For over thirteen years they have fought us at every turn, in and out of court, aiming to make recovery of the money they owe us so impossibly difficult that we would give up and settle for peanuts.

We refused to be intimidated despite my elderly mom’s heart condition and my multiple sclerosis. In 2008 the U.S. District Court ruled that my mom and I had successfully recaptured my father’s Superman copyrights and were entitled to Superman profits since April 1999.

Angered and alarmed by this defeat, Warner Bros resorted to a despicable old trick: diverting attention from the legal merits of our case by personally attacking our long-time lawyer, Marc Toberoff. Through DC, the media giant filed a lawsuit against Mr. Toberoff, my family and the Estate of Superman’s co-creator Joe Shuster, falsely claiming “unfair competition” and that Toberoff interfered with an out of court offer that Warner tried to push on my mom and me in early 2002 – an offer full of studio accounting traps that we refused to sign before we even knew Mr. Toberoff.

Warner Bros possesses documents stolen from my attorney’s office which mysteriously ended up on the desks of three top Warner executives. Warner claims it has no evidence whatsoever as to when these large packages arrived. According to Warner, the thief also included a cowardly anonymous letter that vilifies our attorney and mischaracterizes the privileged attorney-client communications enclosed. In a disgraceful violation of my privacy, Warner’s lawyers attached this nasty anonymous letter to a publicly filed complaint and leaked it to the media.

In the midst of this sideshow, my mom, the original model for Lois Lane, passed away last year at 93, still determined to keep her promise to my dad. She never got to relax and enjoy any proceeds from the crusade she fought until her dying day.

Now the torch is in my hands and I won’t be silent any longer about Warner Bros’ tactics. I refuse to be bullied or deterred from enforcing my farnily’s rights, and fully support my attorney who has tirelessly defended them. Warner Bros’ smear campaign has only made me more determined than ever. We have the right to the attorney of our choice, which is none of Warner’s business…

What Warner Bros apparently doesn’t realize is that despite their tremendous power, I will NEVER give up on my parents’ dream of rightfully restoring my father’s rights to his family.

Would Superman, the embodiment of “truth, justice and the American way,” let Warner Bros, DC Comics, and their gang of attorneys get away with this? Not for an instant!

Laura Siegel Larson

Los Angeles, California"

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