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Judge Says Warner Bros. Owns Superboy

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Pow! Warner Bros. owns the rights to Superboy and to the ads that promoted the first Superman comic, under a decade-old settlement agreement, a federal judge ruled.

The families of the late writer Jerome Siegel and artist Joe Shuster have been locked in a long-running battle with Warner Bros. and its DC Comics subsidiary over rights to the Man of Steel.

After selling Superman to DC Comics for $130 in 1938, Siegel pitched his idea for a Superboy comic. DC rejected the proposal, then published a Superboy comic strip without Siegel's permission while he was fighting in World War II.

"Several rounds of litigation ensued," U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II wrote, concisely, in his April 18 order granting summary judgment to Time Warner et al.

This order came 16 years after Siegel's heirs in 1997 served DC with a notice of termination of Siegel's Superman copyright grants to the company, covering rights to Superman, Superboy and Superman ads.

Four years of negotiations followed, resulting an Oct. 19, 2001 letter that the court found in February this year was a binding settlement. That ruling came after remand from the 9th Circuit.

Negotiations to turn the letter into a long form contract collapsed, and the Siegels served DC with another notice of termination in 2002.

The family sued DC in Federal Court in 2004, after claiming ownership of the Superman and Superboy characters.

Judge Wright, however, ruled last week that the 2001 settlement granted ownership of the rights not just to Superman but included rights to Superboy and the Superman ads as well.

Wright found that the Siegel family had used the 1997 termination notice as leverage to negotiate a lucrative new deal with DC, and entered into it "freely and intelligently."

"In exchange for this grant, the Siegels received a $2 million advance, a $1 million non-recoupable signing bonus, forgiveness of a previous $250,000 advance, a guarantee of $500,000 per year for 10 years, a 6 percent royalty of gross revenues, and various other royalties," Wright wrote. "Simply put, the Siegels entered into a highly remunerative new deal with DC as a direct result of their 1997 notice of termination that purported to encompass the Superboy and Superman ad works now at issue."

Warner Bros. had appealed to the 9th Circuit after a federal judge found that the family deserved a share of profits from the Superman franchise.

But Wright found that any previous "decisions holding that Superboy and the ads were not properly terminated by the 1997 notice does not change the result."

Wright said the 2001 settlement was not "contrary" to the Siegels' rights to terminate a 1976 deal between the Superman creators and DC Comics under copyright law.

"Given that the Siegels settled their rights to Superboy and the ads well before any court decided the 1997 termination notice did not in fact encompass those works, the court cannot see how the 2001 settlement agreement could be an 'agreement to the contrary' simply because it had the effect of eliminating certain termination rights the Siegels believed they had already exercised," Siegel wrote.

He granted DC's motion for summary judgment, and ruled that any claims arising from an alleged breach of the 2001 settlement should be settled in state court.

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