A judge ruled that DC Comics and, by extension, its parent company Warner Bros. will keep its rights to the character of Superman, despite the attempt of the heirs of original artist Joe Shuster to retake their rights to the character.
U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright ruled that in 1992, when DC Comics agreed to take care of Shuster’s debts after his then-recent death and pay his sister Jean $25,000 annually for the remainder of her life, the Shuster family lost the right to renegotiate copyright.
“The 1992 agreement, which represented the Shuster heirs' opportunity to renegotiate the prior grants of Joe Shuster's copyrights, superseded and replaced all prior grants of the Superman copyrights,” Wright wrote in his decision.
The lawyer for the Shusters, Marc Toberoff, said in a statement that “we respectfully disagree with [the order’s] factual and legal conclusions. It is surprising given that the judge appeared to emphatically agree with our position at the summary judgment hearing.”
Shuster and his co-artist Jerry Siegel signed over rights to Superman to DC Comics’ Jack Liebowitz and Harry Donenfeld for $130 in the 1930s, with Superman appearing in a comic book for the first time in 1938. A judge ruled that the Siegel family had rights to the character in a 2008 case, but Warner Bros. is still able to use Superman while paying the family (Warner Bros. is appealing that ruling). However, Wright said that the case with the Shusters is different because they entered into the 1992 agreement.
It is predicted the Shuster family will appeal Wright’s ruling.