On Wednesday, in an 18-page decision, Judge Otis D. Wright III ruled in a Federal District Court at Los Angeles, that the heirs of Superman co-creator Joseph Shuster have no rights to seize control of half of the Superman franchise. Represented by Mark Toberoff, the heirs of Shuster had been trying to regain rights to the Superman character from the hands of its current owner, Warner Bros.
Similar lawsuits have become common after the Congress amended the copyright law in 1999 allowing heirs to reclaim previous copyrights if they met certain conditions. Accordingly, in 2008, a judge had ruled that an interest in the Superman franchise should revert to the heirs of the other co-creator of Superman, Jerome Siegel.
However, Judge Wright held that the cause of the heirs of Shuster were different from that of the heirs of Seigel. He found that in 1992, shortly after the death of Shuster, Jean Peavy, Shuster’s sister surrendered the rights to the character to Warner in exchange of settling Shuster’s debts and a lifelong payment of $25,000 a year.
Wright wrote, “By taking advantage of this opportunity, she exhausted the single opportunity provided by statute to the Shuster heirs to revisit” the issue of copyrights of the character ever again.
Now, that’s a bit wondrous, since common law and principles of jurisprudence do include something called ‘inadequate compensation’ where even a property sale can be challenged well after its completion and transfer of possession having been completed. For 50 percent rights to the Superman character, paying off some debts and a meager sum of $25,000 a year does appear inequitable.
So, the war’s not over yet. The executor of Shuster’s estate should have a right to appeal the judgment or bring a fresh case of ‘inadequate compensation’ in case that point has not been litigated.
The lawyer for the Shusters, Marc Toberoff said about the judgment in a statement, “We respectfully disagree with its factual and legal conclusions, and it is surprising given that the judge appeared to emphatically agree with our position at the summary judgment hearing.”
On the other hand, Warner is appealing the 2008 ruling that granted the rights to one-half of Superman to the heirs of Seigel.