While we were reporting about whether Hayden Christensen is or isn’t playing Superman in the JLA movie, some other interesting developments were going on for the Man of Steel. Warner Brothers lost a key court case determining who had rights to Superman, with a federal judge rulling that the heirs to co-creator Jerry Seigel were the proper rights holders and should be paid for domestic profits from the use of the character since 1999.

The case, reported on by Variety could be seriously damaging to Warner Brothers, who will have to pay out tens of millions to the Siegel family just for the projects that have already been made (animated series, Superman Returns, Smallville, etc.) It also puts a huge question mark on the use of the character in the future. Considering Warner Brothers already had two projects in development (JLA and a sequel to Superman Returns both talked about within the last week), the studio is looking at a pretty major problem.

The outcome of the case shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone, and comic writer Neil Gaiman, who underwent a similar lawsuit on a much smaller scale a few years ago, wrote in his blog that he lawsuit was probably more about postponing the inevitable than actually putting up a fight. He also points out the consequences could be quite dire. There’s no obligation for the Siegel family to maintain a relationship with DC Comics or Warner Brothers, which means the rights could be licensed to anyone.

The seriously bad news for Warner Brothers is that this is the first of two lawsuits – Siegel was a co-creator for Superman, after all. In five years the heirs to the other half of the creation team, Joe Shuster, will be eligible for a similar claim on their part of the rights.

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