As expected, the district court has ruled that the 2001 settlement agreement between DC and the Siegels is binding and did indeed transfer the Superman copyright to DC. But what about Superboy?This is how the lawsuit ends, not with a bang but a whimper:
The Court GRANTS DC’s motion for summary judgment on DC’s fourth counterclaim and holds that the October 19, 2001 agreement remains enforceable and operated itself to transfer the Siegels Superman rights to DC. This ends this Court’s involvement in the parties’ dispute ….
The ruling itself addresses Toberoff’s arguments for getting around the agreement and finds them wanting. The court agreed that it needed to make sure that the agreement did indeed transfer the rights, but as we discussed in my previous post the court found the matter to have been resolved by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision.
If at times it sounds as if the ruling is a bit passive aggressive about having been boxed in by the interpretations of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, welcome to the real-world politics of the trial & appellate court divide.
The court also concludes that certain arguments were brought years later than they should have, which again is not a surprise. On page 10, we see that DC decided to use the argument that the Siegel side had failed to make a timely affirmative defense pleading, proposed in my previous post, and the judge agreed that it was correct.
The court leaves open the possibility of subsequent state-court breach of contract filings based on disputes over the performance of the settlement, but any such filing would be separate from the Superman copyright litigation now being closed.
After declaring the Superman copyright dispute to be over, the court goes on to ask for briefing on a couple additional issues that one would think have been resolved by the settlement, but the court wants to make absolutely certain before it ends the legal proceedings once and for all. The issues: the Superboy rights and the early Action #1 promotional ads.
One can expect that DC will make try to make quick work of both.
The settlement states that the Siegel family is to “transfer all of its rights in the ‘Superman’ and ‘Spectre’ properties (including ‘Superboy’)’” to DC, and DC will doubtless argue that this means what it says. Moreover, it’s not even clear that the Siegels’ claim to Superboy goes beyond any rights they might have had in it as a derivative work of Superman–in 2007 the district court vacated a previous ruling that gave the Siegels ownership of Superboy as a separate character, indicating that Superboy might instead be merely a derivative work.
As for the promotional ads, the 2008 ruling found that those belong to DC. This is why the judge had to come up with the weird ruling that the ads gave DC only the copyright in a black-and-white strongman–otherwise, the Siegels’ share of Action #1 would have given them far less.
And now, of course, that share is gone.
My condolences to the Siegel and Shuster heirs for what must be a crushing blow. The legal dispute may be all but over, but the work of Jerry, Joanne and Joe on behalf of creators’ rights will always continue to inspire.