The ongoing lawsuit over the rights to Superman took another turn as Warner Bros. made its move. Hoping to hold onto all its rights on the Superman franchise, the studio filed a brief before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals explaining why the estate of co-creator Jerry Siegel shouldn’t be allowed to execute a copyright termination notice on the property.
In 2008, Siegel’s heirs won a big victory when the courts determined that they could terminate the copyrights traceried to Warner. It was not a complete victory, however, as the estate only retained the rights to the first editions of the Action Comics, granting all later creations to Warner.
This meant that Siegel (and his co-author Joe Shuster) would reclaim many of Superman’s defining characteristics, including his costume, Clark Kent and the origin story. But Warner and DC Comics would retain other elements, including Lex Luthor and Kryptonite. The Siegel estate appealed the ruling in an attempt to gain ownership of all things related to Superman.
On March 23, Warners took its turn by telling the court in a cross-appeal what happened after the Siegel estate sent its termination notice on Superman. According to the studio, the two sides had come to an agreement on “every essential term for a re-grant of rights” when in 2001, the estate was approached by an “intellectual property entrepreneur” — attorney Marc Toberoff – who dangled the prospect of more money. The Siegels fired their law firm at the time, hiring Toberoff, and allegedly contracting agent Ari Emanuel to sell Superman rights.
The family asserted there while there was an agreement in principle in 2001, there was no deal without a contract, and the district court agreed, casting aside established California contract law principles. Warners asks that the 9th Circuit bring this long-running dispute to an end by enforcing the alleged 2001 deal.