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Warner Bros wins key court battle in Superman IP case

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MUMBAI: Warner Bros, leading film, television and music entertainment company, has won a key court battle against the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster to own all the rights to the Man of Steel.

A US federal judge has ruled that a 1992 agreement prevents the family of Shuster from "exercising a portion of copyright law that allows authors to recapture their works".

Created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born American artist Joe Shuster in 1932, the copyright of the character was bought by Warner Bros-owned DC Comics. The Superman has become a popular character and is one of the most valuable characters owned by Warner Bros.

Superman is estimated to have generated more than $500 million for Warner Bros with five films at the US box office in addition to billions of dollars that it has realised from television, toys and games, and comic books spanning 74 years.

Siegel and Shuster had battled for higher compensation for Superman throughout their lives as did Siegel‘s heirs who have demanded a stake in copyrights to Superman.

In his summary judgment ruling, Wright wrote that the effort by Shuster‘s sister Jean Peavy and her son, Mark Warren Peary, to exercise a so-called termination right was superseded by a 1992 pact made shortly after Shuster‘s death. In that deal, Peavy and her brother Frank signed a deal with DC Comics to cover Joseph Shuster‘s debts and pay Jean Peavy $25,000 a year for the rest of her life.

Wright noted in his opinion that DC‘s then-executive vice president Paul Levitz admonished them that by taking the agreement, they "would fully resolve any past, present or future claims against DC."

Wright wrote that the 1992 agreement "unmistakably operates to supersede all prior grants" and that Peavy and her brother Frank "were aware of the Copyright Act‘s termination rights when they bargained for and entered into the 1992 agreement."

"By taking advantage of this opportunity, she exhausted the single opportunity provided by statute to the Shuster heirs to revisit the terms of Shuster‘s original grants of his copyrights," Wright wrote.

Wright noted that when he was alive, Shuster never terminated his copyright, and the "heirs essentially struck a deal that binds all other heirs." He noted that the Copyright Act provides only for a termination of a copyright grant made before Jan. 1, 1978, and the 1992 agreement superseded it. Jean Peavy‘s son, Mark Peary, as executor of the estate, served a termination notice on DC in 2003 for the early Superman works from the late 1930s.

A lawyer for the Shuster family said 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."

The ruling would allow Warner Bros and DC Comics to go ahead with their plans to produce the sequel to upcoming Man of Steel. It can also move forward to produce DC‘s "Justice League" movie, which would have been impossible without the appearance of Superman.

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