As the cheque that bought Superman goes to auction, Warner Bros now say they want a trial by jury over what happens to the rights to Superman in the battle with the heirs of Superman creators Siegel and Shuster, regarding the contract drawn up ten years ago.
In a strategic move in the copyright battle between Warner Bros and the heirs to Superman's creators, the studio has filed an appeal to reverse earlier rulings in the case and put everything out in open court in a trial. "This long-running dispute should be brought to an end," Warner Bros wrote in a dense 117-page appeal (read it here) filed Friday with the 9th Circuit Court. In typical Hollywood legalities, the move actually resolves nothing — expect to see a response from the heirs and then another back from Warner Bros, and all off it to end up one way or another in the Appellate Court sometime in the late summer or early fall.
On Friday, Warners took its turn by telling the court in a cross-appeal what happened after the Siegel estate sent its termination notice on Superman. According to the studio, the two sides had come to an agreement on "every essential term for a re-grant of rights" when in 2001, the estate was approached by an "intellectual property entrepreneur" — attorney Marc Toberoff — who dangled the prospect of more money. The Siegels fired their law firm at the time, hiring Toberoff, and allegedly contracting agent Ari Emanuel to sell Superman rights.
But Warners believes that when the Siegel family walked away from the negotiating table in 2001, a meeting of the minds had already taken place. "The family asserted there was no deal without a long form [contract], and the district court agreed, casting aside established California contract law principles—principles essential to the entertainment industry, where many business deals are never formalized," says the studio in its brief. "The rule there is simple, however: a deal is a deal, long form or not."
Warners asks that the 9th Circuit bring this long-running dispute to an end by enforcing the alleged 2001 deal.