Ninth Circuit Court Finds Against The Siegels And For Warners Over Superman Rights, But Confirms It Was Not Work-For-Hire
Bleeding Cool has received legal documents from the United States Court Of Appeal Ninth Circuit.
They show that, yesterday, the courts found against the estate of Jerry Siegel over rights to Superman, and for Warner Bros. and DC Comics.
Siegel's daughter Laura Siegel Larson, had brought a case against Warners in 2004, three years after making a deal with Warners over termination rights to the character, stating that there was no binding contract
However, in 2013, the Ninth Circuit ruled that Warners owned that character, decided that a letter signed in 2001 sent my attorney Marc Toberoff to DC Comics made for a legal contract and that the rights were transferred to DC/Warners. Laura appealed, stating the letter was signed ahead of a formal contract that was never agreed.
A hearing was held in November, and can be seen here.
And yesterday, the Ninth Circuit affirmed that decision by the district court and that "they did not err". They state that "Larson has failed to show that she was in any way prejudiced by the 2001 agreement, through which the Siegels reassigned the purportedly recaptured rights to DC in exchange for substantial compensation"
They also state that Larson's case that even if the letter was seen as a contract, it couldn't transfer the rights for Superboy and early Superman promotional ads, was invalid because when the letter was written, those termination rights were yet to be sought. And the 2001 agreement superseded those later attempts.
They also rejected Larson's argument that her mother, Joanne Siegel, had rescinded the 2001 agreement, in letters sent in 2002 that "DC acquiesced in the rescission".
"As the district court noted, permitting Larson to raise these arguments now would substantially prejudice DC. Joanne Siegel has since died. DC would have to change its defense strategy, conduct new discovery, and the litigation would effectively have to begin all over."
But the court also rejected DC's argument that the district court "erred in amending its final judgment in Larson's favor on her first claim that, because the Superman copyrights did not arise from works made for hire, she validly terminated all prior grants of those copyrights in 1999. DC asks the court to revisit Judge Larson's earlier rulings that the Superman works were not made for hire, but we find no error in Judge Larson's finding that these works were not made at DC's "instance and expense.""
So while DC has won the war, they are left with the final affirmation that Superman was not a work-for-hire comic book…