After a battle that would leave even the Man of Steel in need of good herbal bath soak, a Los Angeles judge announced Wednesday that the family of Superman co-creator Joseph Shuster would walk away empty handed in their fight to reclaim their 50% interest of the character, now owned by Warner Bros. Studio.
Particular elements of Superman were set to revert to the Shuster family in 2013, putting Warner Bros. in a sticky situation with their upcoming blockbuster Man of Steel. A loss would have stripped the movie studio of its rights to utilize many of Superman’s trademarks, from super strength to the Lois Lane and Lex Luthor characters to the mere mention of the term “Kryptonite.”
In 2008, a court ruled in favor of the family of Jerry Siegel who owned the other 50% of the Superman rights. If the lawyers defending the Shuster estate had won the case, the character could then be shopped to other studios — and the WB’s in-motion projects would be DOA.
But a document from 1992 (via Hollywood Reporter), approved to be used in the court case in April, was the nail in the coffin for the Shuster estate. In the official wording from the verdict:
“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which represented the Shuster heirs’ opportunity to renegotiate the prior grants of Joe Shuster’s copyrights, superseded and replaced all prior grants of the Superman copyrights.”
With 50% of the character, Warner Bros. can now continue with their plans to release Man of Steel and further develop the character for other projects (including the proposed Justice League film.
While the Shuster camp will likely appeal the ruling (as Warner Bros. is currently in the process of doing to the Siegel case, in hopes of holding 100% of the rights), the studio win is another mark on the timeline of creators losing ownership of ther characters — ones that have helped make big companies millions. Recent examples include a fight by the heirs of famed comic artist Jack Kirby, who brought characters like X-Men, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk to life for the first time, but was deemed an artist for hire by Marvel, who was then able to keep their hold on the roster. Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich had a similar spat with Marvel, which ended with the comic company demanding Friedrich no longer appear at conventions with Ghost Rider merchandise, sketches or even the title “creator of Ghost Rider.”
Fans live on the outskirt of the issue: for any Man of Steel fan, a new big screen adventure is a dream come true and the creator legal battles only stand in the way of that blockbuster treatment. But do the public struggles of creatives in the industry affect the enjoyment of the films? Is someone in the wrong, or is it all the price of doing business?
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures; DC Comics]