The legal battle between Warner Bros. and the estates of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster over the copyright to the Man of Steel has been raging for more than a decade, and the bad blood behind it has been boiling for much, much longer. It often looks like there's no end in sight for this clash, but now Warner Bros. is taking steps to win the fight, once and for all.
The copyright battle began back in 1999, when Siegel's widow filed a copyright termination notice on Superman that ignited a long fight with Warner Communications, parent company of both DC Comics and Warner Bros. Studios. In 2008, the Siegel family reclaimed its half of the copyright to the character, and the Shuster family is scheduled to get the other half in 2013. But that doesn't mean Warner Bros. is going down without a fight.
The studio recently filed a 117-page appeal in the 9th Circuit Court asking that all previous rulings in the case (including those that gave copyright back to the Siegel and Shuster families) be reversed and that the case be brought to full, open trial.
"The case presents an unusually broad array of doctrinal, factual, and procedural issues. But much of the case reduces to a familiar proposition: a deal is a deal," said Daniel Petrocelli, who represents Warner Bros. in the case.
The appeal claims that Siegel's daughter, Laura Siegel Larson, "reneged" on a deal with DC Comics that would have "guaranteed the family many millions of dollars in cash, royalties, and other compensation." The family's decision to back out of such a deal was apparently backed up by a court, but Warner Bros. isn't happy about that, claiming that doing so was "casting aside established California contract law principles—principles essential to the entertainment industry, where many business deals are never formalized."
Deadline predicts that this is the beginning of a heated exchange of statements between the two parties, followed by a return to court for the case this summer or fall. Siegel and Shuster themselves won an annual stipend of $20,000 for life in the '70s when they launched a massive PR campaign protesting their treatment by DC Comics, but it looks like things won't be that simple for their families. This battle is going to get worse before it gets better.
But don't worry; Superman's not going anywhere. None of this is likely to affect the release of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel.