Truth, Justice And The American Way: Warner Bros. Finally Wins Rights To Superman

superman_comics_logoUpdate, 1/11/2013, 10:10 a.m.: Jeff Trexler at Comics Beat has a pretty detailed rundown of the decision and its overall meaning.

It was probably a foregone conclusion, given years of contracts and lawsuits and back-of-the-check work for hire agreements and thousand upon thousands of court hours – sweet, sweet lawyer-billable hours – but it appears that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has all but given the rights to Superman to Warner Bros.

In a decision handed down earlier today, the court asserted that an October lower court decision that denied Warner Bros.’s claim that a letter, sent to Warner in 2001 by one of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel’s heirs, constituted the acceptance of a settlement offer over the whole rights mess and therefore meant that the question of who owned what and when and why and under what threats of which ruinous lawsuit or where the promise of torture was made and how. So with that issue resolved, it means that, unless someone wants to take this to the Supreme Court – assuming the Supreme Court wants to spend time talking about comic books – Warner Bros. owns the rights to use Superman pretty much lock stock and barrel.

And, as a side note, it appears based on the text of that letter that this decision also makes clear that Warner Bros. has clear rights to The Spectre, which means that Guillermo del Toro can use him in his Dark Universe movie project as he’s said he might want to.

Now, I am not a lawyer, and I’m sure there are plenty of lawyers out there who have already thought of ten ways to get around this decision and are frantically dialing every Siegel for whom they can find a phone number on the Internet, but I have profoundly mixed feelings about this final decision. On one hand, no one likes to think of the creators of the most iconic superhero in the world winding up penniless… although I have less sympathy for the heirs, who have been pursuing this matter for years, claiming that they are owed a fortune by dint of shooting out of the right guy’s dick.

But on the other hand, this is the resolution of what amounts to two different deals that were made by Siegel and Shuster, and their estates, and while they might have been shitty, onerous deals? They were deals. And while, in hindsight, it might have been great to offer the creators of Superman a piece of the ownership of their creation, either Siegel and Shuster didn’t ask, or they did and DC said no… and they signed the contract and cashed the check anyway. And Siegel’s heirs considered an offer from Warner Bros. back in 2001… and sent them a letter accepting it.

And it is easy to say, with more than 70 years of publishing history, five movies (with one on the way, and not counting the Helen Slater Supergirl movie – which you shouldn’t), four TV series (off the top of my head, and not counting any cartoons) and two embroidered headrests in Shaq’s Ferrari, that more money and rights should have slid their way, at the time, they just knew that they were getting published. So they signed. And the aftermath might suck… but that was the deal. Reverse the scenario in your heads: if some creator had an ownership deal with any other entity, and that entity sued to get more of the pie, we’d all gleefully tell that party to eat shit and die.

Look, this whole Superman ownership situation was a shit sandwich, and everyone took a bite at one time or another. But it’s over, and if nothing else, it taught us all something: if you have a million dollar idea? Don’t just sell it for $130. Talk to a lawyer. And then, sure, make a deal… but make it a good one.

(via The Hollywood Reporter)