Warner Bros. Gets a Big Win in the Superman Copyright Battle

Warner Bros. won a key court battle in its legal battle with the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster over the rights to the character.

Variety reports that U.S. District Judge Otis Wright ruled Wednesday that a 1992 agreement prevents the family of Shuster from “exercising a portion of copyright law that allows authors to recapture their works.”

Judge Wright wrote

…the effort by Jean Peavy, the sister of Joseph Shuster, and her son, Mark Warren Peary, to exercise a so-called ‘termination right’ was superseded by a 1992 pact made shortly after Shuster’s death. In it, Peavy and her brother Frank signed a deal with DC Comics, a unit of Warner Bros., to cover Joseph Shuster’s debts and pay her $25,000 a year for the rest of her life. Wright noted in his opinion that DC’s then-executive vice president Paul Levitz admonished them that by taking the agreement, they ‘would fully resolve any past, present or future claims against DC.’

That’s good news for Warner Bros. as the loss of Superman would likely cost them 10’s of millions of dollars each year, if not more. They won’t have to seek the permission of the creator’s estates to use the character. Expect an appeal of the decision.

But, this battle is far from over. In 2008 a judge ruled in favor of the heirs of Shuster’s co-creator Jerry Siegel that they could reclaim control of 50% of the Superman rights owned by Warner Bros. Warners is appealing that decision, with a hearing on that and other claims scheduled for November 5.

The Hollywood Reporter has the full decision.