The legal scuffle over ownership of the Man of Steel will likely continue for years, but this week saw a major victory handed to DC Comics and its parent company, Warner Bros.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright ruled that the estate of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster waived any claim to ownership of Superman in 1992, when the deceased artist's heir made an agreement with DC to pay off Shuster's debts and increase various annual payments the publisher had been making to the estate. The ruling comes just four years after the family of Superman's other creator, Jerry Siegel, reclaimed their 50-percent share of the character under the provisions of the U.S. Copyright Act.
In his ruling on the case, Wright cited an exchange between Shuster's sister and estate heir, Jean Peavy, and DC's former Executive Vice President, Paul Levitz, in which Levitz stated that the 1992 agreement “would represent the author/heir's last and final deal with DC, and would fully resolve any past, present, or future claims against DC.”Wright's ruling allows Warner Bros. and DC Comics to continue using many elements of the character appearing in Action Comics #1 that would have reverted back to Siegel and Shuster's ownership if the two creators' estates had reclaimed their stake in the Man of Steel. As it stands now, ownership of the character and many of his defining elements – including his Kryptonian origin, his super-strength and speed, his Clark Kent identity, and the character of Lois Lane – is now split evenly between Siegel's estate and Warner Bros.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about the recent ruling, Shuster attorney Marc Toberoff said, “We respectfully disagree with its factual and legal conclusions, and it is surprising given that the judge appeared to emphatically agree with our position at the summary judgment hearing.”
Toberoff is expected to challenge the ruling's broad-reaching dismissal of the Shuster estate's claims to the character, and there's likely to be more legal wrangling regarding exactly which elements of the character are covered under each ruling.
While the ownership of Superman is still a long way from being decided outright, this week's ruling does pave the way for Warner Bros. to continue on its current path with the “Man Of Steel” movie hitting theaters in June 2013. More immediately pressing, however, is a November 5 hearing before the 9th Circuit Appeals court in Washington, D.C., in which Warner Bros. will challenge the 2008 ruling that gave the Siegel estate its share of Superman ownership.
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