A draft letter from the recently deceased Joanne Siegel, widow of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, has been released on Deadline that describes the way she and her family are being treated by DC Comics parent Time Warner in the litigation over the rights to the character. The letter was released on the occasion of the casting of Lois Lane for the upcoming Superman movie (see “Amy Adams Is Lois Lane”); Joanne Siegel was the model for the Lois Lane character. She was drafting the letter at the time of her death on February 12th of heart failure.
In the letter to Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes, Siegel notes the roster of CEOs she has dealt with over the years, and the progressively more rancorous relationship between the company and the Siegel heirs. Siegel eloquently states the facts of the situation. “My daughter Laura and I, as well as the Shuster estate, have done nothing more than exercise our rights under the Copyright Act,” she wrote. “Yet, your company has chosen to sue us and our long-time attorney for protecting our rights.”
The 93-year-old woman described Warners’ efforts to repeatedly depose both her and her daughter despite their failing health. “My cardiologist provided a letter to your attorneys informing them that I suffer from a serious heart condition and that forcing me to go through yet another stressful deposition could put me in danger of a heart attack or stroke…. Nevertheless, your attorneys are forcing me to endure a second deposition even though I have already undergone a deposition for a full day in this matter. As clearly they would be covering the same ground, their intention is to harass me,” she wrote.
Warners’ attorneys were also attempting to depose her daughter Laura, who also suffers from severe medical conditions, for a third time despite her doctors’ requests that the deposition not be required.
Siegel asked, “Do these mean-spirited tactics meet with your approval? Do you really think the families of Superman’s creators should be treated this way?”
She eloquently summed up the reasons she was drafting the letter and the underlying issues. The purposes of the letter, she wrote, were:
“To protest harassment of us that will gain you nothing but bad blood and a continued fight.
“To protest harassment of our attorney by falsely accusing him of improper conduct in an attempt to deprive us of legal counsel.
“To make you aware that in reality this is a business matter and that continuing with litigation for many more years will only benefit your attorneys.”
“This is not just another case,” she wrote. “The public and press are interested in Superman and us and are aware of our and your litigations. The solution to saving time, trouble, and expense is a change of viewpoint. Laura and I are legally owed our share of Superman profits since 1999. By paying the owed bill in full, as you pay other business bills, it would be handled as a business matter, instead of a lawsuit going into its 5th year.”
The Siegel heirs have successfully recaptured the copyrights to one half of the early works depicting Superman (see “Siegel Heirs Win Superman Case”), and the Shuster heirs will reclaim the other half in 2013. But Warners seems determined to litigate the case aggressively regardless. Perhaps this letter, and the shame heaped upon the company for its treatment of the creators on which its profits rest, will cause them to alter that strategy.