Warner Bros. Pictures has claimed a major victory on its fight to defend its rights to the Superman franchise. On Wednesday, October 17, a Los Angeles federal judge legally denied the effort taken by heirs of Superman co-creator Joseph Shuster to reclaim their 50% interest from the fabled Kryptonian superhero.
Judge Otis D. Wright II of Federal District Court ruled that a 1992 binding agreement between Shuster's sister Jean & brother Frank and DC Comics had prevented the siblings from attempting to terminate copyrights. In the agreement, Jean forfeited rights in return for Warners' settling of Frank's debts and payment of $25,000 a year for the rest of her life.
"The court finds that the 1992 agreement, which represented the Shuster heirs' opportunity to renegotiate the prior grants of Joe Shuster's copyrights, superseded and replaced all prior grants of the Superman copyrights," so Wright stated. "The 1992 agreement thus represents the parties' operative agreement and... is not subject to termination."
The judge added, "By taking advantage of this opportunity, she [Jean] exhausted the single opportunity provided by statute to the Shuster heirs to revisit." He also claimed that the DC Comics President in 1992 had given Jane an "admonition" that the contract she was about to sign would "fully resolve any past, present or future claims against DC."
Superman, first created in comic form in the 1930s, has become one the most valuable franchises for Warner Bros. The legendary character has generated over $500 million domestically from five movie adaptations. It also grossed billions of dollars from toys, games, comic books and TV series such as "Smallville".
With the Wednesday ruling, Warners and DC Comics are now allowed to move forward with their plans to produce the sequel to upcoming "Man of Steel" if the big-budget movie proves successful. The studio can also move forward to produce DC's "Justice League" movie, which would have been impossible without the appearance of Superman.
A WB representative hasn't made any comment on the ruling, but Jane's lawyer Marc Toberoff reacted in a statement, "We respectfully disagree with its factual and legal conclusions, and it is surprising given that the judge appeared to emphatically agree with our position at the summary judgment hearing."