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Shuster heirs seek a rehearing of Superman copyright appeal

by  in Comic News Comment

As expected, the attorney for the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster has asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for a rehearing of last month’s ruling that reaffirmed the artist’s estate can’t reclaim his copyright stake in the Man of Steel.

The Ninth Circuit upheld in a 2-1 opinion an October 2012 ruling by a lower court that the Shuster family relinquished all claims to the character in a 1992 agreement with DC Comics in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” which included paying Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and providing his sister Jean Peavy and brother Frank Shuster with a $25,000 annual pension. U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright had found the agreement invalidated a copyright-termination notice filed in 2003 by Shuster’s nephew Mark Peary.

But in a petition filed Tuesday, and first reported by Deadline, attorney Marc Toberoff insists the Nov. 21 opinion warrants a rehearing by either the three-judge panel or the Ninth Circuit’s full bench “because it contravenes Congress’ clear objectives, and this Court’s carefully-circumscribed decisions.”

His argument hinges in large part on the dissent by Judge Sidney Runyan Thomas, who noted that because Shuster’s estate hadn’t entered probate at the time of the 1992 agreement, neither the artist’s sister nor brother had the authority to “dispose of Joe’s copyright interests.”

The October 2012 decision was the first of twin, seemingly fatal, blows in the battle by the creators’ families for the Superman rights: Less than three months later, the Ninth Circuit overturned a 2008 decision that granted the Seigel heirs his 50-percent share of the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1, effectively giving DC full ownership of the character. That was followed in April by Wright’s ruling that Superboy also belongs to the publisher, an issue left unresolved by the appeals court’s decision.