Sue you, no Suebacks!: Warner Bros. files lawsuit against Superman attorney

There’s a lot of drama in the air over at Warner Bros. lately. And most of it has to do with the Man of Steel.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the families of Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster recently won an important ruling in their lawsuit against DC Comics and Warner Bros. They were awarded certain rights to the character that Warner would obviously liked to have kept for themselves. Well, Warner Bros. isn’t taking it lying down. Warner’s general counsel John Rogovin fired his lawyers, hired Daniel Petrocelli (lawyer for Disney in the Winnie the Pooh lawsuit) and filed a lawsuit against an odd target: the Siegel and Shuster families lawyer, Marc Toberoff.

The lawsuit contends that Toberoff manipulated the families, convincing them to go back on their deals with DC and Warner to enter into a deal with Toberoff that will give him almost half of the rights to the character once their case is won. Allegedly, he is unfairly competing with Warner by hiding behind his guise of lawyerdom to “exploit the Superman franchise” instead as a businessman. So is it true, or is Warner just trying to discredit and get rid of a lawyer that could do a lot of damage to them?

Toberoff certainly thinks so, having responded in a press release. Here are a few of the more significant bits.

Having substantially lost the legal battle over the Superman copyrights, Warner Bros. and DC Comics (“Warner”) fired their two law firms and hired Daniel Petrocelli. In a desperate effort to avoid the merits of this action, they now resort to a smear campaign, disguised as a lawsuit, against the Siegels’ and Shuster Estate’s long-time attorney, Marc Toberoff. Even before filing their new lawsuit, Warner Bros.’ press machine embarked on a well-coordinated campaign to assassinate Mr. Toberoff’s character.

The baseless lawsuit and press campaign are clearly vindictive, given that Mr. Toberoff has handled a string of successful rights claims against Warner, including securing a preliminary injunction barring Warner’s infringing “The Dukes of Hazzard” movie in 2005.

In recognition of the inferior bargaining position of authors who want their works published, Sections 304(c), 304(d) and 203(a) of the Copyright Act specifically provide authors and certain heirs the right to recover their copyrights by terminating prior contractual grants of copyrights. Ridiculously, Warner now uses the Siegels’ and Shuster Estate’s exercise of this important statutory right to terminate prior contracts as the basis for frivolously claiming tortious contractual interference.

Warner and Mr. Petrocelli are aware that the frivolous allegations in their complaint do not add up and will never pass muster in the federal courts. However, that’s not the point of their lawsuit. Warner and Petrocelli’s objective is to “muddy the waters” by attacking Mr. Toberoff, potentially conflict him out of the case, and thereby strong-arm the Siegels and Shusters into selling at a cut-rate price the copyrights they have legitimately recaptured. Such unethical tactics are nothing short of deplorable.

Ironically, Petrocelli, who destroyed the valuable Winnie the Pooh case based on the plaintiff’s use of documents stolen from a Disney dumpster, now purports to rely on privileged documents stolen from Mr. Toberoff’s law offices under very suspicious circumstances.

What is most interesting about this case is the fact that this isn’t the first time that Warner and Toberoff have butted heads. He got an injunction against them in 2005 against their Dukes of Hazzard film, forcing them to pay 17.5 million dollars to the producer of the 1974 film, Moonrunners, that the television show was based on.

This could get uglier though. If Warner Bros. can’t prove their case, then Toberoff could turn around and sue them and THEIR lawyer for malicious prosecution.

Posted on May 20, 2010 at 12:11 by Lincoln Eddy · Permalink
In: Comics, Movies, News · Tagged with: , , , , , ,