DC's Pre-Emptive Strike - $600,000 Buys 50% Of Superman

You've just read the headline correctly - DC Comics have launched an amazing, and unexpected, pre-emptive strike, this time against Joe Shuster's heirs.  In between appeals against the Siegel heirs, consisting of claim and counter claim and co-counter claim, came this latest round of filings, and their associated documents consisting of just under 1,000 separate pages, apparently from the collection of Paul Levitz.  DC's stance is that, for a mere $600,000, which has already been paid to Joe Shusters late brother and surviving sister, DC Comics want the court to ratify their claim of ownership of the Shuster's 50% of the Superman copyright.  If the court does agree with DC Comics, it would mean that the Shuster heirs cannot go through with their copyright termination notices, which is expected to happen in November 2013, thus forcing the Siegels, and Marc Toberoff, into a stalemate.  

If DC win this surprise round then it would mean that they own 50% of Superman.  If they lose the Siegel claim this would then mean that both parties would own the copyright, split down the middle.  This would mean that, if DC wanted to continue exploiting the character they'd have to enter into an agreement with the Siegels and Toberoff.  It also means that if the Siegels and Marc Toberoff wanted to exploit the character then they'd have to enter into an agreement with DC Comics.  After all, 50% of a copyright, when the other side won't come out to play, is almost worthless, unless you can sell it to someone who can deal with the owner of the other 50%.

According to DC's filing, they firmly believe that they own the claim based upon at last three points.  In order they are as follows:
"In exchange for more than $600,000 and other benefits, Jean Peavy—the sole beneficiary of Shuster’s estate—entered into a 1992 agreement with DC that rescinded all of Shuster’s prior copyright grants and re-granted to DC any copyright interests that Shuster or his heirs may have held. This agreement eliminated any pre-1978 copyright grant that might otherwise be subject to termination under the Copyright Act."
 "In 2001 and 2003, Jean Peavy, her son Mark Peary, and the Estate of Joseph Shuster “assign[ed]” their putative “copyright termination interest in ‘SUPERMAN’” and any “termination” rights they possessed to a joint venture with Pacific Pictures Corporation, defendant Marc Toberoff’s film production company. When the Shuster Estate served its copyright termination notice weeks later in November 2003, none of Jean, Mark Peary, or the Shuster Estate possessed the majority (or greater than 50%) share of Joe Shuster’s putative termination interest required to terminate under the Copyright Act and Copyright Office regulations.  Defendants’ undisputed failure to disclose the transfer of their purported termination interest to Pacific Pictures was not “harmless error”—both the notice and the sworn declarations filed with it concealed material facts about defendants’ illicit agreements in violation of federal law. "
 "The Shuster heirs’ copyright termination notice is premised on § 304(d) of the Copyright Act, which allows termination only by certain individuals whose rights “expired” under § 304(c) of the Act. 17 U.S.C. §§ 304(c)-(d). Because Joe Shuster passed away in 1992 without exercising any purported termination right or leaving a statutory heir to inherit it, his termination right did not “expire”—it simply ceased to exist. As a result, there is no statutory basis for the Shuster heirs to terminate under § 304(d)."
 To summarise the claim of DC Comics, "Section 304(c)(6)(D) establishes that during the 10-year notice period before the Shuster heirs’ copyright termination notice purports to take effect (2003 to 2013), the Shusters were and are barred from entering into any agreement regarding the putative rights they hope to recapture with any party other than DC, the original “grantee” to those rights."  If the court sees this the same as DC Comics, and grants them 50% of Superman, it'd make the best deal that DC has made since it shelled out $130 back in 1938 and 'bought' Superman from Jerry and Joe.  So, without any further talk, have a read of the latest court document.  

And just when you thought it was getting dull...



Brian Cronin said…
Huh. Sure sounds pretty solid on DC's part. I wonder why this hasn't come up before?
Daniel Best said…
I suspect that they've had this waiting in the wings and just decided that the time was right to spring it. The appeal isn't going all that well for them, and the overall case could go either way - this way they're showing Toberoff that they're not going to wait for 2013.

Plus the new movie is about to be released...
Unknown said…
Man, they must be making a shit load more money from this one character than i can get my head around because those layers and the years of their employment cannot be cheap!
Fascinating development, Daniel. Thanks for posting.
Schedel said…
This whole case is so entrancing, I keep having to read all of these legal documents start to finish, and I'm loving it! It's making me reconsider going to law school.

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