There’s another setback for Warner Bros. in the lawsuit with the estates of Superman co-creators Joel Shuster and Jerry Siegel. A judge has rejected Warner Bros.’ attempts to open documents that reportedly show an agreement between the estates not to make further copyright deals with the studio.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, “the documents are said to also contain a formula for how the two estates will share proceeds on Superman once they successfully terminate Warner’s rights to the lucrative franchise.”
“The documents are said to be “consent agreements” between the Siegel and Shuster estates and their existence came to light during settlement discussions during the first phase of the Siegel trial,” said THR. “Once [Joanne Siegel's lawyer Marc] Toberoff mentioned the presence of these agreements, Warners almost immediately demanded the documents be shared. During the first trial, Toberoff successfully got a judge to agree that those documents were protected by attorney-client privilege.”
The fighting, which has gone on for more than ten years now, doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. Last year Warner Bros. had argued that the agreement itself was a violation of the Copyright Act and could not be kept under wraps.
“The prior case, however, didn’t address this particular situation,” said THR, “where the heirs of the original creators apparently agreed to negotiate together, and not grant future interests to anyone, including Warners.”
The opinion, issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zaresky on Monday, doesn’t “settle the question of whether such an agreement does in fact violate copyright law, but says that Warners’ assertion that it is illegal does not necessarily make it so.”
Got all that? Warner Bros. has until 2013 to try and win this battle, that’s when they’ll lose specific rights to the famous, and lucrative, character.