Warner Bros. may have won all of the latest rounds in the Superman copyright battle, but the heirs of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster aren't throwing in the towel just yet.
Over the last year, as Superman turned 75 and the latest big-screen incarnation of the character debuted in Man of Steel, Warner Bros. and DC Comics scored a series of legal victories over the Siegel and Shuster families, both represented in the lengthy legal fight by attorney Marc Toberoff. Back in the spring, a federal judge ruled that Siegel's family had effectively handed over all claim to the character in a 2001 agreement with DC Comics, and just a few weeks ago the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that Shuster's family had basically done the same in a legal agreement with DC in 1992. Now Toberoff and the Shuster family are firing back with a request that the Circuit Court rehear the arguments in the ruling. But why?
Well, the Circuit Court's ruling, which upheld a previous ruling in the fall of 2012 by a lower court, stated that the Shuster family gave up Superman when they agreed to receive "more than $600,000 and other benefits" from DC Comics in 1992. The agreement was made in the aftermath of Shuster's death, and consisted of DC both paying off outstanding debts the artist had upon his death and granting his siblings a $25,000-a-year pension. United States District Judge Otis J. Wright had previously ruled that this agreement meant that a copyright termination notice filed in 2003 by Shuster's nephew, Mark Peary, was invalid, and the Circuit Court agreed last month.
However, Toberoff sees a chance to strike back in the one dissenting vote cast in the Circuit Court's ruling. Judge Sidney Runyan Thomas voted not to uphold the earlier ruling because, apparently, Shuster's estate had not begun the probate process at the time of the 1992 agreement his siblings made with DC. Because Shuster's estate had not been administered at the time the agreement with DC was made, Thomas believes that Shuster's family did not yet have the authority to "dispose of Joe's copyright interests."
It's a small foothold in the midst of a number of legal defeats for the creators' families, but it's at least a little glimmer of hope for those on the side of Siegel and Shuster. We'll see if the court agrees to give the issue at hand another look.