LOS ANGELES (CN) – DC Comics claims that attorney and film producer Marc Toberoff manipulated the heirs of Superman’s creator into breaking decades-old agreements in a scheme to take control of the copyright himself.
In its federal complaint, the Warner Bros.-owned comic book publisher claims Toberoff persuaded the heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to sign with his company and file invalid copyright termination notices, thus “netting him the controlling stake in the heirs’ asserted interests in Superman.”
Shuster and Siegel had a sometimes contentious relationship with DC over rights and compensation ever since the publisher bought the iconic character in 1938, when Superman couldn’t fly, had no X-ray vision and appeared in black and white.
By 2001, when Toberoff allegedly began his scheme to get the rights to Superman, DC had reached agreements that “provided the heirs substantial compensation” and confirmed that the publisher owned Superman, according to the complaint.
When Toberoff learned about the agreements, he “engineered a course of conduct” to destroy them, telling the heirs that a “billionaire investor” was poised to purchase the termination rights and produce a new Superman movie if they rejected their agreements with DC, according to the complaint.
That course of conduct allegedly is described in a blow-by-blow document included in the complaint, called “Superman-Marc Toberoff Timeline.”
Written by an unnamed attorney who once worked for Toberoff, the timeline came to light by court order in 2008, according to the complaint.
In an introduction, the unnamed lawyer wrote that Toberoff “has devised a strategy whereas he has ultimately claimed much ownership of the Superman copyright personally as he can. And of course, he has done so without the knowledge and full disclosure to the Siegel and Shuster heirs.”
Toberoff now controls about 47 percent of the termination rights to the Superman copyright, which DC Comics has spent more than 70 years developing, the lawsuit claims.
Toberoff told The New York Times last week that the lawsuit was part of a “smear campaign” against him, calling it a “last-ditch effort” to hold onto the lucrative copyright.
DC Comics wants the agreements between the heirs and Toberoff declared void, and an injunction barring the Shuster heirs from entering into copyright termination agreements with third parties for at least 10 years.
The publisher is represented by Daniel Petrocelli with O’Melveny & Myers.