Warner Bros' Kryptonite: Superman Creator's Heirs
Can you imagine being the creator of the iconic Superman character and then selling the rights to that creation for $130? Of course, you know what they say about hindsight being 20-20. But back in 1932 when Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster as teenagers authored the superhero we know today, a deal like that seemed decent enough. Thankfully, a court ruling last week against Time Warner (via NY Times) might finally rid the Siegel heirs of this truly bitter taste. One wonders, then, what will become of future Superman projects, including the sequel to the 2006 Superman Returns and the already troubled Justice League of America movie.
Essentially, the judge determined that the Siegel heirs' rights to the Superman character were restored as of 1999, stemming from a lawsuit brought by Mrs. Siegel and her daughter in 1997. That suit relied on a 1976 law, which allows heirs to recover rights to creations under certain circumstances. Considering this, it seems Warner Bros (the film unit of Time Warner) owes the Siegels quite a pretty penny, since Superman Returns brought in just over $200 million domestically in 2006. (This latest ruling only pertains to the US copyright to the character.)
So what does this mean for the upcoming projects? No one really knows just yet. It seems to simply boil down to Warner Bros forking over some money; but is that enough to really derail any upcoming productions? If I'm right, Alex is probably giggling that Justice League is hit with yet another setback. To give you an idea, attorney Marc Toberoff, who also repped this case, got producer Robert B. Clarke $17.5 million from Warner Bros stemming from similarities between Clarke's 1975 Moonrunners and the big-screen Dukes of Hazzard.
Toberoff was a good choice by the Siegels, for sure. The guy has filed similar copyright suits involving various productions, such as Wild Wild West, "Smallville", and the forthcoming Get Smart.
Yet however noble this latest ruling for the Siegel heirs may be, Toberoff's own personal ambitions smack of some greediness. The guy has apparently set up a production company stemming from all this litigation called Intellectual Properties Worldwide. Toberoff even sometimes gets a producing credit on the resulting films.
Complicating the Superman outlook further is the fact that Shuster's heirs are eligible to bring a similar suit in 2013. Whether that suit would be retroactive as it is for the Siegels is unknown. But you can be sure Warner Bros is stepping lightly now and taking a hard look at the viability of future projects.