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film news

DC Comics, Warner Bros. win Superman case ruling

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Wednesday July 8 the judge overseeing the lawsuit brought by the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerome Siegel against Warner Bros. and DC Comics ruled that the two companies did not owe any additional monies to the Siegel estate. However, the clock may be ticking down to when Warner Bros and DC Comics can continue to make any new Superman movies or comic books without having to negotiate a new deal with the families of Siegel and his creative partner Joe Shuster.

In his examination of the case United States District Court Judge Stephen G. Larson decided that the deal between DC Comics to license the rights to Superman to Warner Bros., and then used in the Smallville TV series and the Superman Returns feature film, was not a so-called "sweetheart" deal and that DC was paid fair value for the rights by its sibling company. According to information presented in the lawsuit, to use the character in the 2006 film Superman Returns DC Comics was paid $1.5 million upfront, $18.5 million in option extensions over 31 years and 5% of first-dollar worldwide distributor gross or 7.5% of domestic gross of the film's gross, whatever was larger. DC also got an additional $45,000 for every episode of Smallville that got made plus a percentage of the gross revenue generated by the show.

Judge Larson looked at similar deals between Marvel Comics and movie studios to see if the Superman deal between WB and DC was fair value for such rights and decided it was. "DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment are very gratified by the court's thorough and well-reasoned decision in this matter," both companies said in a joint statement. "The decision validates what DC and Warner Bros. have maintained from the beginning, which is that when they do business with each other, they always strive for -- and achieve -- fair market value in their transactions. We are very pleased that the court found there was no merit to plaintiffs' position that the Superman deals were unfair to DC Comics and, by extension, the plaintiffs."

So DC and Warner Bros. are off the hook to pay the Siegel estate more money for Superman -- for now. After the verdict was reached the attorney that represents the daughters of Joe Siegel, Marc Toberoff, said that Warner Bros. only has up to 2011 to get a new Superman movie in production because two years later both the Siegel and Shuster estates will own the Superman copyright -- in full. "This trial was only an interim step in the multifaceted accounting case which remains, in that it only concerned the secondary issue of whether DC Comics, or DC Comics and Warner Bros., would have to account to the Siegels," Toberoff explained to Variety. "To put this in further perspective, the entire accounting action pales in comparison to the fact that in 2013, the Siegels, along with the estate of Joe Shuster, will own the entire original copyright to Superman, and neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros. will be able to exploit any new Superman works without a license from the Siegels and Shusters."

In short, BOOM. There may be no new Superman adventures, either in comic book form, television shows or movies, at DC Comics or Warner Bros. if the Shusters and Siegels say so in four short years. During deposition hearings for the trial Warner Bros. president Alan Horn stated that while there was no new Superman movie being developed at present the studio does want to make one. However, the soonest any Superman film could be moving ahead toward filming would be sometime in 2011, and if the studio doesn't pull the trigger on a sequel, the Siegels will be able to sue Warner Bros. for monies that they could have earned had a different studio been developing the new movie.

On December 1 Judge Larson will move on to determining how much money the Superman creators' estates are entited to have from other remaining profits created by the copyright.

-Variety.

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