Ruling looms in Shuster estate's bid to reclaim Superman rights

A federal judge is set to decide whether the estate of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster can reclaim a portion of the rights to the Man of Steel.

Variety reports U.S. District Judge Otis Wright has canceled a hearing scheduled for Aug. 20 on a DC Comics motion for summary judgment in the drawn-out, and increasingly bitter, legal dispute, saying he will decide the matter without oral argument.

With the window opening next year for the Shuster estate to recapture its stake in the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1, DC filed the motion last month revisiting its earlier claims that termination notice filed in 2003 by the artist's nephew Mark Warren Peary is invalid. The heirs of Shuster's collaborator Jerry Siegel reclaimed their portion of the rights in 2008 and 2009 under a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act.

The publisher argues the Shuster termination notice is voided, in part, by a 1992 agreement in which the 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 with a $25,000 annual pension.

Attorney Marc Toberoff, who represents both families, counters that the survivor payments constitute a "modest" pension increase from an earlier agreement, and that the 1992 contract makes no mention of termination rights.

Wright gave no indication when he would rule. DC is also seeking to overturn the 2008 decision granting the Siegel family half the rights to the first Superman story, arguing that the court should enforce a deal abandoned in 2001 when the heirs were approached by Toberoff.

That 2008 decision allowed the Siegel family to reclaim many of the Man of Steel’s defining elements, including his costume, Lois Lane, his origin and secret identity — and paved the way for the Shuster estate to do the same in October 2013 — while leaving Warner Bros. and DC with such later additions as Lex Luthor, kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen.

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