Warner Bros. has won an important legal battle over the DC Comics character Superman, giving it absolute control over the creative direction of the character, and shutting out the heirs of one of the hero’s original creators.
An appeals panel unanimously ruled that Jerry Siegel’s heirs have to abide by a 2001 letter accepting Warner’s offer for their 50% share of the character Superman. The five-page letter was never formalized into an actual contract, but the court considers this moot: It is still binding, reports BBC.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, of the 9th US Circuit of Appeals, wrote that both parties “had resolved the last outstanding point in the deal during a conversation on Oct 15, 2001,” adding that the letter in question “accurately reflected the material terms they had orally agreed to on that day.”
The ruling undermines a 2008 court decision which ordered Warner Bros. to share a sum earned since 1999 with Siegel’s heirs, and to give them key control of the Superman story.
“The court’s decision paves the way for the Siegel family to receive the compensation they negotiated for and which DC has been prepared to pay for over a decade,” said a statement from Warner Bros.
“We are extremely pleased that Superman’s adventures can continue to be enjoyed across all media platforms worldwide for generations to come.”
The Siegel family has not yet issued a statement, reports the LA Times.
Pros and cons: Pro, there won’t be any more creative disputes over the direction of one of the most iconic characters in comics and film. Con, the studio has unilateral control over Superman, and some may feel that creative control should be exercised by the creative rather than a board of bureaucratic producers. Then again, who’s to say that the Siegel family is indeed creative?
It is a touchy and sketchy case, and merely the latest entry in Superman’s decades-long legal troubles. Co-creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel long struggled for greater compensation after a raw deal left them with little. For better or worse, the book seems to have been closed on a subject that has plagued the character throughout his 70+ year career.
What do you think? Should Superman’s rights be owned by Jerry Siegel’s family, or by the studio Warner Bros.?