Monday, June 20, 2011

Joanne Siegel And Laura Siegel Larson v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; Time Warner Inc.; & DC Comics: DC's 2001 & 2005 Contract Offers

”After more than half a century of DC Comics and it’s predeccessors enjoying huge profits from my late husband’s creations, while we lived in poverty for many of those years, the company is not satisfied.  The beast hungers for more.  Just like the Gestapo, your company wants to strip us naked of our legal rights.

“There was no concern for the suffering it would cause Jerry Siegel’s widow and his ailing, impoverished daughter.”  –Joanne Siegel, May 9, 2002 (in a letter to DC rejecting their 2002 offer)

Under their agreements with DC Comics, Siegel, Shuster, and their families have been paid nearly $4 million—and continue to receive payments today.

“There is no better proof of how poorly these cases have gone for the Siegels— which include a full bench trial they lost,—than the Rule 54(b) motion they filed in the Siegel actions seeking to avoid an accounting trial, because it will expose how little they are owed under Judge Larson’s rulings. In contrast, had the Siegels not been induced to repudiate their 2001 settlement agreement with DC Comics, they would have received millions of dollars by now, and kept nearly all of it. Because of Toberoff’s actions to enrich himself, however, the Siegels have received nothing to date and must give to Toberoff 45% of anything they may obtain.” –DC Comics to the United States District Court Central District Of California, September 27, 2010

Every court case divides people, but that is the nature, and goal, of litigation.  In order to win you have to convince the judge, or jury, that you’re right and the other side is wrong, and in order to do that, sometimes certain facts are omitted.  The Joanne Siegel And Laura Siegel Larson v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; Time Warner Inc.; & DC Comics case is certainly no different.

I was surprised to recently learn that not many people knew that DC tried to settle their differences with both the Sigel and Shuster families, as recently as 2005.  The main knowledge of such a settlement came just after the 1999 case when the Siegel’s won back a percentage of the rights to Superman and Action Comics #1.  The deal was scuppered because, according to the story at the time, DC Comics boss, Paul Levitz, put it together without the knowledge of the Warner Bothers board.  However in 2001 another deal was ratified, drawn up and placed on the table for the Siegel’s to consider.

The deal was for the right to control Superman and The Spectre.  In return for signing those rights over, DC Comics offered up an immediate payment of $2,000,000, along with a signing bonus of an additional $1,000,000.  After that there was to be a minimum of $500,000 per year for the next ten years, on top of the $135,000 per year that the company was already paying Joanne Siegel (and presumably now pays Laura Siegel).  The original $25,000 per year that DC announced it would pay to both Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel in 1975 had increased considerably, and that included medical insurance (Hopefully not the Jack Kirby kind of medical insurance) and by 1988 both Jerry and Joe were getting $80,000 each, per year, plus full medical expenses.  Tied into the 2001 deal were royalties and percentages of the gross for all Superman and Spectre related products and in return DC wanted more than just a nice word, as you’ll read.  Still, it’s a lot of cabbage to turn down, but turn it down the Siegel’s did, and in doing so they dismissed their legal team and engaged the services of Marc Toberoff.  Read into that anything you will.

The Shuster’s were in a similar boat.  When Joe died payments continued to his sister and brother, albeit at a reduced rate as per the original deal.  Joe’s sister and brother were to split $25,000 per year between them, but as Joe died owing a lot of money, nearly $20,000 in 1992, DC quietly picked up the tab on that.  As with the Siegel’s, payments continued, along with annual bonuses and the Shuster’s appeared happy to allow that to continue, writing to DC, at one stage, to tell them that they had no intention of following Joanne Siegel’s lead to sue DC, instead optioning to abide by the deals of the pension agreement.

In 2005, with the Siegel case in full flight, DC again reached out to the Shuster heirs and made them an offer.  The deal included a $2,000,000 advance, plus payments of no less than $1,000,000 per year against royalties and percentages.  The sum of at least $1,000,000 per year would apply until 2033, at which time the deal would be renegotiated.  The Shuster’s turned that down as well, and have also engaged the services of Marc Toberoff.  Again, read into that what you will.  To be fair, the amounts, while not chicken feed in anyone’s eyes, represent a fraction of what DC has made, and will continue to make, off the back of Superman, but it is a start, and someone with the capacity to earn $500,000 per year, for work that they never did, can hardly cry poor.  Still I'd agree with a lot of people that DC should have been paying Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster millions per year while they were still alive, as it stands if the stories about Toberoff getting a reported 47.5% of the Superman contracts from the Siegels and Shusters, it would seem that another person who had nothing to do with the character will be getting very rich.

Toberoff represents the Siegels and Shusters, both in a legal sense, but also to shop their copyrights around to anyone who might be interested.  In October 2002 the Siegel’s signed a contract with IP Worldwide, which stated that IP Worldwide would “negotiate the sale, lease, license and all other dispositions or exploitations” of their putative Superman rights in exchange for 10% of the proceeds. The Siegels also agreed they would “not transfer, assign, license or in any manner encumber the Rights … other than through or as a result of IPW’s exclusive representation.”  In return it has been alleged that Toberoff has taken a larger percentage of the Siegel/Shuster copyright for himself, via this agreement and via a buy out of the late Michael Siegel’s interest – this is what is currently being tested in court.  The Shusters have also signed contracts with Toberoff (although there is some speculation that those contracts violated the Copyright Act).  Until we have an outcome, we can at least see the details, and correspondence, between DC Comics, Joanne Siegel and Jean Peavy.

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