Appeals court denies Shuster heirs rehearing in Superman battle

In the latest -- and, quite possibly, final -- legal blow to the estate of Joe Shuster, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a petition for a rehearing of its November decision that effectively brought to an end what a three-judge panel described as “the long-running saga regarding the ownership of copyrights in Superman — a story almost as old as the Man of Steel himself.”

In a 2-1 finding in November, the Ninth Circuit panel reaffirmed an October 2012 ruling that the Shuster estate is prevented from reclaiming the artist’s stake in Superman by a 20-year-old agreement with DC Comics. That lower-court decision dealt with a 1992 agreement in which the Shuster estate relinquished all claims to the Man of Steel 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.

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 heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel 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.

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