Warner Bros. dealt a setback in Superman legal battle

A federal judge on Monday denied an effort by Warner Bros. to gain access to sensitive documents that are alleged to show an agreement between the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster not to strike further copyright deals with the studio, Hollywood, Esq. reports.

The documents, which were at the center of Warner Bros.' May 2010 lawsuit against Siegel family attorney Marc Toberoff, also purportedly contain a formula for how the two estates, and Toberoff, would divide the Superman assets once they successfully terminate the studio's rights to the property.

Although Toberoff had convinced the judge in the first trial that those documents were protected by attorney-client privilege, Warner Bros.' new outside counsel Daniel Petrocelli argued in the 2010 lawsuit that the consent agreement violates the U.S. Copyright Act and, therefore, can't be insulated from discovery. However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zaresky ruled this week that the studio's assertion that the documents are illegal doesn't necessarily make them illegal.

Zaresky's decision is a setback for Warner Bros., which has been waging an increasingly bitter legal battle to hold onto Superman following a 2008 ruling that Siegel's widow Joanne Siegel and daughter Laura Siegel Larson had successfully recaptured half of the original copyright to the Man of Steel. The door will open in 2013 for Shuster's estate to do the same. (Last month Toberoff asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to determine exactly what elements from Superman’s mythology his clients can reclaim as a result of the 2008 decision.)

The tone and tactics of the dispute were the subject of a letter written in December by Joanne Siegel to Time Warner Chairman Jeffrey L. Bewkes, just two months before her death.

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