Warner Bros. sues Siegel family attorney [Updated]

The battle over the rights to Superman has taken a surprising twist, with Nikki Finke reporting that Warner Bros. aims to force Marc Toberoff to resign as the Siegel family's attorney.

According to Finke, the studio's new outside counsel Daniel Petrocelli filed a lawsuit today against Toberoff "raising questions about his alleged role as a financial participant in the Superman copyright and not as the attorney for the Shuster and Siegel families fighting their Superman cases."

The lawsuit reportedly alleges that Toberoff, a longtime legal nemesis of Warner Bros., convinced the families of Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to reject "mutually beneficial" longtime agreements with DC Comics and seek to recapture copyright to the property. Further, the studio charges that Toberoff entered into agreements with the heirs that would give him and his companies "a controlling financial interest in the families' collective claims -- leaving him as the largest financial stakeholder (47.5%), while relegating the Siegel heirs (27.5%) and Shuster heirs (25%) to minority status."

Finke asserts that the Warner Bros. case hinges on mysterious documents removed from Toberoff's office by one his employees. She points out that when Petrocelli defended Disney in a lengthy battle over merchandising royalties from Winnie-the-Pooh, he succeeded in having the case thrown out because the plaintiffs based part of their argument on paperwork "stolen" from a dumpster in the Disney lot.

Warner Bros. faces a ticking clock: Siegel's heirs were awarded his share of the copyright in 2008; in 2013, the door will open for a similar reversion of rights to the Shuster estate.

Update: According to Variety, the 65-page complaint accuses Toberoff of violating copyright laws and interfering with Warner Bros.' contractual rights, and alleges he prevented the Siegel and Shuster families "from freely entering into agreements with DC Comics -- even if it was in their respective economic interest to do so."

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