WB Wins Ruling in Superman Rights Case

The judge overseeing the copyright lawsuit filed by heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel has ruled in favor of publisher DC Comics and its corporate parent Warner Bros.

The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Stephen G. Larson finds that Siegel’s wife and daughter can only recover profits earned by DC Comics. The heirs’ attorney had argued that since Warner Bros. owned DC Comics, any licensing deals the comic book publisher made with the studio were ‘sweetheart’ deals below market value, and that their claim should apply to the entire company.

But the judge rejected that argument, saying payments the studio made to DC for such projects as the Smallville TV series and the Superman Returns motion picture were fair market value.

According to Variety, Warner acquired feature film rights for $1.5 million upfront, paid $18.5 million in extensions over 31 years and owed DC the greater of 5 percent of the first-dollar worldwide distributor gross or 7.5 percent of the domestic gross. The terms of the TV rights were $45,000 per episode, 3 percent of first-dollar gross for the first $1.5 million and 5 percent thereafter.

Larson previously ruled the Siegels had successfully terminated half of the original transfer of copyright from Siegel and co-creator Joe Shuster to DC Comics in 1938 as provided by revisions made to U.S. copyright law since 1976. The new ruling came as the court seeks to determine how much money the Siegels are entitled to for DC’s use of their share of the copyright since that transfer was terminated, effective 1999.

Under current copyright law, Shuster’s estate will be able to terminate its share of the original copyright transfer in 2013. The copyright transfer applies only to the Siegel and Shuster-created material published in 1938′s Action Comics #1, the first Superman story published, because that material was created prior to its purchase by DC Comics.