Warner Bros. wins Superman copyright after legal battle with creators’ heirs

By Daniel S Levine,

Warner Bros., which now owns publisher DC Comics, won a major legal victory on Wednesday against the heirs of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the co-creators of Superman.

In 1992, Schuster’s sister, Jean Peavy, made an agreement with DC that would ensure higher payments from the profits of the iconic comic book character. U.S. District Court Judge Otis D. Wright found that this agreement meant that the family could not terminate the copyright agreement with Warner Bros. and DC.

Wright found “that the 1992 Agreement, which represented the Shuster heirs’ opportunity to renegotiate the prior grants of Joe Shuster’s copyrights, superseded and replaced all prior grants of the Superman copyrights,” he wrote in the decision, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “The 1992 Agreement thus represents the parties’ operative agreement and, as a post-1978 grant, it is not subject to termination.”

Shuster’s heirs claimed that DC’s copyright claim could be terminated because, in 1976, “termination rights” went into effect in US copyright law. This allowed creators to terminate a copyright grant so that they could renegotiate terms of contracts made prior to 1978. Since the 1992 agreement was made, Wright found that the Shuster heirs could not end DC’s copyright to the character.

“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,” the Shuster family’s attorney said in a statement, reports The BBC.

Superman generated $500 million in revenue for Warner Bros.' first five films with the character. The studio is currently working on Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. That film will be out next summer and stars Henry Cavill as Superman.

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