Superman heirs have their day in court… and lose

supermanreturnsYesterday, Variety reported on the outcome of the ongoing legal troubles between Warner Bros., DC Comics, and the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and it doesn’t look good for them.

U.S. District Court judge Stephen G. Larson found that the licensing fees paid by the studio to the comics company for the rights in order to make Superman Returns were indeed of a fair market value and not indicative of a “sweetheart” deal. As thus, Joanne Siegel and Laura Siegel Larson are only entitled to their share of the $13.6 million that DC earned from the sale of the rights rather than any portion of the $391 million that the studio grossed worldwide for the film.

The companies released a joint statement, quoted in the article:

“DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment are very gratified by the court’s thorough and well-reasoned decision in this matter,” the companies said in a joint statement. “The decision validates what DC and Warner Bros. have maintained from the beginning, which is that when they do business with each other, they always strive for—and achieve—fair market value in their transactions. We are very pleased that the court found there was no merit to plaintiffs’ position that the Superman deals were unfair to DC Comics and, by extension, the plaintiffs.”

However, there’s a second component to the case which will take place on December 1, when Larson will take a stab at figuring out exactly how much in profits the women will get from an earlier ruling which gave them half the copyright to the character, as well as an additional part will actually have an impact on when another Superman movie will be made.

According to Marc Toberoff, the attorney for Siegel and Siegel Larson, by 2013 they and the heirs of Joe Shuster will own the entire copyright to the character, which means that if a movie doesn’t get made or start production before then, Warner Bros. will have to deal with them in order to do it and not their sister company DC Comics.

Toberoff also asserted the the court

found that Warner Bros. should have paid three to four times the amount actually paid for the Superman film rights and that [it] had found it ‘inequitable’ that DC transferred the Superman film rights to Warner Bros. without the standard term providing for reversion for lack of ongoing exploitation.

As a result, the court ruled that (according to Toberoff) “if Warner Bros. does not start production on another Superman film by 2011, the Siegels will be able to sue to recover their damages.” Warner Bros. chairman Alan Horn testified during the trial that the property wasn’t currently under development and that the earliest another picture could possibly be released would be 2012.

Posted on July 9, 2009 at 05:10 by Trisha Lynn · Permalink
In: Comics, News · Tagged with: , , , , ,
  • DJ Purkis

    I’d really like to see another Big Blue film go into production. ‘Returns’ had a lot of good stuff in there and I really enjoyed it, but I can understand a lot the criticisms laid on it. I can’t help but feel a (hopefully Singer-helmed) sequel with an honest-to-gawd supervillain would do very well.

    ‘Work for hire’ contracts should come with warning labels, like cigarette packs.

  • Ah, the sordid history of Superman.

    I just finished “Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book”. Interesting look at Siegel,Schuster, Bob Kane and the rest of the guys that invented (or stole from the inventors of) what we love.

  • Chad

    I always thought that DC settled with the one who was last surviving? So technically the heirs would lose in the end. Shame it ended this way. :( Supes has a special spot in my heart ( being 1/2 Canadian).
    I would love to see a movie with Supes versus Brainiac.

  • DJ Purkis

    Brainiac would indeed be cool.

  • Alan

    According to a lot of comic and movie websites, there’s not intent of making a Superman Returns sequel. Apparently because the movie had such spotty review (particularly the idea of a illegitimate father Superman), they’re planning to do a reboot, and retell Superman’s origin from scratch again, ala Batman Begins.

  • Matt

    @Alan –
    Honestly, that’s what they should have done in the first place. I understand the respect they tried to give to what Reeve had done before with the role, but they would have had a much more solid movie and franchise if they hadn’t tried to build on twenty year old movies and had instead done a full reboot. It’s a pity, too, as I liked the costume work and the casting; at this point, if they do a reboot, they’ll likely have to throw away the handful of things that were done correctly in ‘Superman Returns.’

  • BlueNight

    I would LOVE to see a new cinematographic vocabulary for any new Superman film. I want to see a human-sized guy doing amazing stuff from at least a hundred feet away, in stark contrast to all the up-close shots we’ve always seen. I want the amazing stuff to be amazing because it’s unexpected.

    • I agree, BlueNight. But that’s Hollywood for you: “No, stick the cameras in the characters’ faces. No, closer. No, I can see the top of their head AND their chin. CLOSER.”

  • BlueNight

    Actually, I’d prefer a straight-up Smallville movie in which Superman (tights and all) finally makes his public debut. Between several movies over the following decade, “Smallville” will become “Metropolis” and showcase stories by Grant Morrison and Joe Kelly, among other comic writers. Sure, it’s a lot of product in a universe that doesn’t quite square with comic continuity, but it’s got a built-in fanbase.