Superman Heirs Taking Warner Bros. Back To Court
How much trouble is this Superman guy really worth? Without counting prints and advertising, the studio spent $495 million getting both Superman Returns and Man Of Steel onscreen, neither of which have become nearly as beloved as the Marvel films or the WBís Dark Knight offerings. And after years of legal wrangling with the relatives of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Warner Bros. finally nabbed the rights to the character, landing another victory in the one-sided battle of major companies against comic creators.
But the fat lady has not yet sung, and I assure you, itís not because she has a problem with her larynx. Deadline reports that lawyer Marc Toberoff is issuing a request for a re-hearing of the November 21st decision to award the rights to the studio, backing the 1976 Copyright Act. WB argued successfully that a deal with Shusterís siblings in 1992 allows them the rights to the character in perpetuity, and the debate is largely whether that agreement can be considered legally binding. The belief is that Toberoff lost the case in November due to not disclosing that he had a side-deal with Pacific Pictures to relocate the rights to the character and producer their own Superman series of films. Et tu, Never Say Never Again?
Needless to say, those films arenít happening. And regardless of the courtís decision, it has already been ruled that the current run of Superman films, which includes 2015ís untitled Man Of Steel sequel, would not see its rights shift back to the estate. This is ultimately an ugly ongoing battle in the complex history of the rights to Superman, indicative of the manner in which companies treat comic creators who arenít Stan Lee.
Siegel and Shuster originally sold the rights of their creation for $130 in order to allow Action Comics to keep publishing Superman stories by their pen. Eventually as the character became a sensation, the two were pulling down a heavily disproportional fee, getting into legal battles with the company over the rights to non-Superman characters they were creating underneath the banner of the brand. Both creators passed away in the 1990s, and legal battles undertaken by Simon and Shuster were later taken up by their heirs, to the point where this is borderline Hatfield-McCoys territory. Apparently the heirs have made repeated agreements with Warner Bros. in regards to the rights, but their lawyers continue to insist these deals are not legally binding. Given that Toberoff owns Pacific Pictures, itís certainly possible these heirs are being used and abused by a couple of greedy jerks.
Of course, an alternate line of Superman movies made by a much smaller, shadier studio? Who isnít intrigued by Toberoffís crackpot idea? Without the rights to other DC characters, Pacific Pictures could have made a genuine standalone Superman picture that isnít beholden to "universe-building" or special guest star characters. Wow, what a novelty that would be?
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