Judge Upholds Ruling DC Received SUPERMAN Rights in 2001

Warner Bros. has scored another win in its long legal battle with the heirs of co-creator Jerry Siegel for the rights to Superman, but analysts warn this is likely not the end of litigation over the matter.

A Thursday ruling by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright upheld a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in January that the studio has full rights to the iconic superhero due to a 2001 binding agreement between the attorney for Siegel’s wife and daughter at that time and Warner Bros.'s then general counsel stipulating DC continued to receive rights to Superman in exchange for “substantial financial consideration.”

That January ruling reversed a 2008 district court decision that the parties “failed to come to an agreement on all material terms” in 2001, which effectively gave the Siegel estate 50% rights to the character.

According to Variety, the Siegel estate’s attorney Marc Toberoff argued in court briefings that “even though the 9th Circuit found that the Oct. 2001 letter was a valid agreement, that did not mean that the heirs had actually transferred rights to DC Comics. Rather, the letter stated that the ‘Siegel Family would transfer all of its rights.’”

The Hollywood Reporter added that Toberoff argued that after the studio agreed to the 2001 deal, "DC anticipatorily breached by instead demanding unacceptable new and revised terms as a condition to its performance; accordingly, the Siegels rescinded the agreement, and DC abandoned the agreement."

In other words, Thursday's ruling upholds the legal validity of the 2001 agreement, but offers no ruling on whether either party honored the agreement.

Wrote Judge Wright: "Subsequent events may have affected the present enforceability of that contract, as by a material breach followed by an effective rescission of the deal.

"The Siegels’ breach and repudiation defenses do not affect the enforceability of the agreement, but rather constitute grounds for termination or a breach-of-contract action."

Meaning that while likely having to overcome statute of limitations hurdles (as Wright wrote the Siegel heirs have never properly attempted to rescind the contract), the next course of action for Toberoff and the Siegel estate if they choose to continue to seek rights to Superman is to argue in state court the 2001 contract was breached due to lack of payment.

Judge Wright also requested additional briefing on "lingering issue of what to do with Superboy and the early Superman ads," so rulings are still due there.

Read the full ruling here.

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