Superman legal battle isn't over yet: Siegels try a new strategy

Despite a January appeals court decision that seemed to signal an end to the nearly decade-long battle for ownership of Superman, the family of co-creator Jerry Siegel still holds out hope for victory over DC Comics.

Overturning a 2008 ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found Jan. 10 that the Siegel heirs had accepted a 2001 offer from DC that permits the publisher to retain all rights to the Man of Steel (as well as Superboy and The Spectre) in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions -- and therefore they were barred from reclaiming a portion of the writer's copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1.

That decision came less than three months after a federal judge determined the 2003 copyright-termination notice filed by the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster was invalidated by a 20-year-old agreement with DC in which the late artist’s sister Jean Peavy relinquished all claims to Superman in exchange “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” including payment of Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and a $25,000 annual pension for Peavy.

However, that January decision sent the case back to federal court in California, where DC filed a motion for summary judgment last month asking for a definitive end to the bitter legal feud. And it's there the Siegel estate sees a glimmer of hope.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Siegel's daughter Laura Siegel Larson and attorney Marc Toberoff are attempting a new strategy, arguing not only that the Ninth Circuit didn't address all of the outstanding issues in the case but that if there was a contract, then DC failed to perform: "DC anticipatorily breached by instead demanding unacceptable new and revised terms as a condition to its performance; accordingly, the Siegels rescinded the agreement, and DC abandoned the agreement."

In addition, Toberoff wants to reintroduce his belief that the U.S. Copyright Act prohibits the anticipatory transfer of terminated rights through contracts, an argument that's met with mixed results.

The two parties are already scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright on March 11 on DC's motion for summary judgment and Toberoff's motion to dismiss the publisher's copyright-interference claims.

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