Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. So you had to figure a little old lawsuit wasn't any match for Superman.
A federal judge has ruled in favor of DC Comics and Warner Bros. in a battle over the rights to the seminal comic book hero—a battle that could have affected the release of next year's would be blockbuster reboot, Man of Steel.
In the latest chapter of the legal saga pitting the comic's original masterminds with DC and parent company Warners, U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright II on Wednesday determined that the studio and its comic book subsidiary will not have to fork over some Superman copyrights to the heirs of cocreator Joe Shuster.
The ruling hinged on a 1992 agreement between the parties. Wright said that deal superseded all others and that Shuster's sister, Joan Shuster Peavy, and brother, Frank, had the opportunity to renegotiate the terms of the pact 20 years ago, but instead surrendered their rights to DC Comics in return for increased annual pension payments.
For the past two years DC has been seeking a court declaration to that effect to keep Shuster's descendants from trying to take back 50 percent of the character's copyright in 2013. Shuster's family had pinned their hopes on a legal provision restoring copyright to creators of works made before 1978; Shuster and cocreator Jerry Seigel hatched Supes in 1938.
But it was not to be.
"The Court finds 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which represented the Shuster heirs' opportunity to renegotiate the prior grants of Joe Shuster's copyrights, superseded and replaced all prior grants to the Superman copyrights. The 1992 Agreement thus represents the parties' operative agreement and, as a post-1978 grant, it is not subject to termination," the judge's ruling stated.
That's good news for Warner Bros., which lost a legal battle in 2008 that saw Siegel's heirs win back half the copyright. That judgment, however, didn't prevent the studio from creating new works with the character as long as it split the profits with Siegel's estate.
There was no immediate comment from the studio, but the lawyer for the Shusters released a statement saying, "We respectfully disagree with [the order's] factual and legal conclusions" and vowing an appeal.