The final legal fate of Superman was delayed this week when a judge put the case on hold pending an appeal of a procedural ruling in a related case.
According to The Hollywood Reporter’s THR, Esq. blog, the appeal is related to a lawsuit that Warner Bros. has filed against attorney Marc Toberoff, who represents the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. The suit alleges Toberoff convinced the Siegels to back out of agreements with the studio and to terminate the copyright transfer that gave WB subsidiary DC Comics the rights to the Man of Steel.
Toberoff fought back against the suit, resulting in a series of findings that resulted in Toberoff appealing a ruling on a procedural issue that has prompted U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright to put the case on hold pending the outcome of the appeal.
The hang-up is the latest in the ongoing litigation over Superman, a character Siegel and artist Joe Shuster created as teenagers in the mid-1930s and sold to Detective Comics Inc. for publication in 1938’s Action Comics No. 1.
A judge ruled in 2008 that the heirs of Siegel, who died in 1996, had successfully terminated his half of the original copyright transfer under revisions to the copyright law enacted in the 1970s and 1990s. The current legal dispute with Warner Bros., which acquired DC Comics in the late 1960s, relates to determining how much of the company’s profits derived from the character since then are owed to the heirs. Warner Bros. is also appealing the termination ruling.
The estate of Shuster is expected to exercise its termination rights in 2013. If successful, then Warner Bros. would be unable to produce further Superman material without a license from the Siegel heirs and the Shuster estate.