Warners Wins Another Round in Superman Case
Schuster Heirs Will Likely Appeal
Published: 10/18/2012 01:24am
U.S. District Court Judge Otis D. Wright has ruled in favor of Warner Bros. and agreed that a 1992 agreement between then DC Comics head Paul Levitz and Jean Peavy, the sister of Superman co-creator Joe Schuster, precludes the Schuster heirs from terminating DC’s Superman rights. This is a big victory for the studio, but the battle is by no means over. It appears quite likely that the Schuster heirs will appeal, and four years ago another California judge ruled that the Siegel heirs did have the right to terminate their agreement and assigned part of the Superman rights including the costume, Clark Kent and the Krypton origin story to the heirs (see "Siegel Heirs Win Superman Case").
After Joe Schuster died in 1992, his sister Jean Peavy wrote to DC asking the publisher to pay his debts and final expenses. Peavy later signed an agreement with Paul Levitz, who was then the Publisher of DC Comics, that paid Schuster’s debts and increased Peavy's survivor benefits, but which also stipulated: "This agreement would represent the author/heir’s last and final deal with DC, and would fully resolve any past present and future claims against DC."
However about a decade later Peavy joined with the Siegel heirs in a suit against DC brought by lawyer Marc Toberoff. But in his ruling Judge Wright stated, "The broad and all encompassing language of the 1992 agreement unmistakably operates to supersede all prior grants." (DC and the Supermen co-creators had in fact negotiated several different agreements over the years starting in 1975. DC claims to have paid Siegel and Schuster and their heirs $4 million since 1975).
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Toberoff expressed some surprise at the ruling and hardly seem inclined to let the matter drop saying, "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."
Judge Wright opined that "the 1992 Agreement deals squarely with the same subject matter as the parties’ earlier agreements." The Judge noted a precedent in a New York case involving the heirs of John Steinbeck, as noted in Steinbeck, "nothing in the statute suggests that an author or an author’s heir are entitled to more than one opportunity between them to use termination rights to enhance their bargaining power or to exercise them." In other words the Judge indicates that in his opinion the Schuster heirs had signed away their termination rights in the 1992 agreement.
While this ruling is a setback for the Schuster heirs, the Siegel heirs still have the rights awarded them in 2008, though an appeal by Warner Bros. with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could possibly alter that situation (see "Warner Bros. Wants Superman Rights Trial"). There is still no end in sight to this legal battle that has gotten extremely nasty over the years with Warner Bros. charging Toberoff with illegally interfering with agreements that the studio had made with the Siegel and Schuster heirs (see "Studio Sues Superman Mouthpiece"), and Jerry Siegel’s wife Joanne drafting a letter shortly before her death complaining of the way she had been treated by DC Comics parent Time Warner in the litigation over the Superman rights (see "DC, Warners Shamed").
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