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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Warner & DC Comics Keep ‘Superman’ Rights

PASADENA, Calif. (CN) - The Ninth Circuit sided with Warner Bros. and DC Comics on Wednesday in a long-running case over the rights to the "Superman" franchise.

Laura Siegel Larson, the daughter of franchise co-creator Jerome Siegel, filed suit in 2004 over a rights agreement that her father negotiated in 1938 with the defendant companies, arguing that there was no binding contract with Warner Bros. after she negotiated a 2001 settlement granting her termination rights.

But the Ninth Circuit ruled in January 2013 that the studio owns the character, finding that a decade-old letter by Siegel family attorney Marc Toberoff - through which Jerome Siegel agreed to a 50 percent stake in the franchise - was sufficient to constitute a contract.

On remand, a federal judge held that the 2001 letter transferred to Warner and DC Comics all of the copyrights listed in the agreement.

Larson appealed the decision, contending that the letter did not constitute a present assignment of rights and was conditioned on a future signing of a formal contract. But after a hearing in November 2015 the Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling on Wednesday.

In the three-judge panel's 8-page per curiam, unpublished opinion, the Circuit held that "Larson has failed to show that she was in any way prejudiced by the 2001 agreement, through which the Siegels reassigned the purportedly recaptured rights to DC in exchange for substantial compensation."

The panel also rejected Larson's argument on remand that her mother, Joanne Siegel, had rescinded the 2001 agreement in letters sent in 2002, and that DC acquiesced in the rescission.

"As the district court noted, permitting Larson to raise these arguments now would substantially prejudice DC," the opinion said.

Since Joanne Siegel has since died, the Circuit held "DC would have to change its defense strategy, conduct new discovery, and the litigation would effectively have to begin all over."

Siegel family attorney Toberoff did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on Wednesday afternoon.

Warner Bros. counsel declined to comment.

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