A federal court ruling siding with Warner Bros. and its DC Comics division over ownership of the lucrative “Superman” franchise sets up a likely appeals court battle.
The 18-page decision issued Oct. 17 by U.S. District Court Judge Otis D. Wright concluded that the heirs of late creator Joseph Shuster could not terminate an agreement with the Burbank film studio, which was given all rights to the superhero character while sharing 50 percent of the revenue.
The 1992 deal between Warner Bros. and Jean Shuster Peavy and Frank Shuster, the siblings of Joseph Shuster, was valid and not subject to provisions in a 1999 amendment to copyright laws granting heirs termination rights, Wright ruled.
“Joseph Shuster, who himself passed away in 1992, never terminated his prior grants of the Superman copyrights to DC,” Wright wrote in his opinion. “And, by entering into the 1992 agreement – which increased Frank and Jean’s payments – the heirs essentially struck a deal that binds all other heirs.”
The ruling is significant for Warner Bros. in that the “Superman” franchise has grossed hundreds of millions of dollars for the studio. A new film featuring the character, “Man of Steel,” comes to theaters in summer 2013.
DC Comics became part of Warner Bros. in 1969. In 2009, the division was folded into DC Entertainment.
Shuster co-created “Superman” with Jerry Siegel in 1938. The pair would later tangle with DC over ownership rights, which resulted in a settlement in 1948 that was amended in the years afterward.
The Shuster estate is expected to appeal Wright’s ruling.
Mark R. Madler