A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that a 1992 agreement between the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster and DC Comics prevents them from pursuing the rights to Superman.
Shuster was the artist on Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, and on many Superman stories in the years following. During life, his relationship with DC/Warner was hot and cold, including an agreement made with the company in the '70s just before Superman: The Movie was released.
While the families had rights under changes made to the copyright law in 1999, the Judge Otis Wright ruled that the Shusters gave up their rights to execute those rights when they signed a deal to increase royalty payments DC had been making to the family in 1992.
Shuster's sister, Jean Peavy, reportedly signed the deal to receive $25,000 per year for life; her attorney claimed that she believed she could still pursue the copyright even with the deal in place, and that if she had intended a permanent transfer of rights, the document would have been longer than the one-page document Warner offered as evidence.
“We respectfully disagree with its factual and legal conclusions, and it is surprising given that the judge appeared to emphatically agree with our position at the summary judgment hearing,” the Shusters’ attorney Marc Toberoff said, but both he and attorneys for Warner Brothers declined further comment.
In 2008, heirs to the estate of Shuster's co-creator Jerry Siegel won a court victory that gave them a share in the rights, a decision that Warner Brothers is currently appealing.