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Warner Brothers Sues the Siegel Family’s Lawyer

Deadline is reporting a new development in the long-running legal battle between Warner Brothers, which owns DC Comics, and the families of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the co-creators of Superman. Warner Bros is now suing Marc Toberoff, the lawyer who represents both families, and who notably represented Siegel’s heirs in a case that ultimately granted them a share of the Superman copyright.

The lawsuit alleges that Toberoff is positioning himself and his companies to gain a controlling interest in the Superman copyright, and Nikki Finke of Deadline suggests that “the purpose of the lawsuit is to put Toberoff in a position where he may have to resign as the Siegel and Shuster attorney altogether.” Why the legal hardball? One of the talking points includes the statement that “if Mr. Toberoff’s efforts to succeed, an entire future generation of Superman movies, television programs, and comics would be placed at risk.”Toberoff has been a recurring thorn in the side of Warner Bros (or “arch-nemesis” as Finke colorfully put it) in several cases, and is actively trying to win the entire Superman copyright away from the company; after his win for the Siegel family in 2008, he now plans to seek similar rights reversions for the Shuster family in 2013. As Finke explains:

Toberoff, who keeps suing Warner Bros on behalf of creative rightsholders, has warned the studio that, in 2013, the Jerome Siegel heirs along with the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster will own the entire original copyright to Superman — “and neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros will be able to exploit any new Superman works without a license from the Siegels and Shusters”. He’s also pointed out that, if Warner Bros does not start production on a new Superman sequel or reboot by 2011, the Siegels could sue to recover their damages on the grounds that the deal should have contained a clause in which the rights returned to the owners after a given time if no film was in development. The heirs of Siegel have already been awarded half the copyright for Superman. And in 2013 the heirs of co-creator Joe Shuster get the remaining half. After that, neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros will be able to use Superman without a financial agreement with the heirs.

The issue of what is owed to the creators and their heirs has been a pretty controversial one in the comics industry, with concerns for creators’ rights often at odds with fan concerns for the narrative future of a beloved character. Regardless, this is a sign that Warner Bros. is willing to fight tooth and nail to keep the copyright, especially because they’ve already had an unfavorable ruling taking part of their copyright away, and also because — c’mon — it’s SUPERMAN. He’s one of the most famous and recognizable fictional characters there is, with marketing and movie potential far more lucrative than what the comics themselves offer. This story has been a long one, and it’ll be very interesting to see how it develops; we’ll be staying tuned.

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