Warner Bros. Wins Superman Copyright Lawsuit

Winner in Copyright Lawsuit

Warner Bros. emerged as the winner in a copyright lawsuit that has been going on for years regarding copyrights the Superman franchise.

Warner Bros Wins Superman Copyright LawsuitThe Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled a 2008 lower court decision, which gave Superman co-creator Jerome Siegel’s estate the go-ahead to recapture rights to the Superman saga. The battle between Warner Bros. and the estates of the character’s creators, Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster has been ongoing. In the 1930s, the creators sold their rights to the character for less than it was worth in the early days. However, the estates sued to recapture the rights to the franchise after the 1976  included a provision allows artists who sold their rights under unfair bargaining to reclaim their copyrights.

Under this law, both creators’ estates won a lawsuit in 2008 that would require Warner Bros. to share profits from franchise products. On appeal, however, Warner Bros. was able to produce a negotiated agreement between the company and Siegel’s widow that was agreed upon in 2001, in which Warner Bros. would provide fair compensation for the rights her husband had sold. A similar agreement was mapped out with Shuster’s estate in 1992.

The court determined that these agreements were not effectively taken into consideration during the 2008 trial, and granted Warner Bros. full rights to the Superman franchise. The ruling comes just before the release of “Man of Steel” in June 2013.

“This is a great day for Superman, for his fans, for DC Entertainment and for Warner Bros.,” said a representative for Warner Bros. “Today’s ruling vindicates DC Comics’ long-held position that it entered into a binding agreement with the Jerry Siegel family in 2001. The Court’s decision paves the way for the Siegels to finally to receive the compensation they negotiated for and which DC has been prepared to pay for over a decade. We are extremely pleased that Superman’s adventures can continue to be enjoyed across all media platforms worldwide for generations to come.”

Despite the victory on appeal, matters relating to copyright and entertainment law can be complex, and it remains possible that the estates may choose to take the matter to the Supreme Court.

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Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

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