The case between Warner Brothers and the estates of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster over exactly who owns the rights to the character of Superman has been raging for years. In 2008, it seemed as if there was the possibility that Warner Brothers, who in turn owns DC Comics, would lose the publishing rights to their flagship superhero when some of the rights to the character’s origin reverted to the estate of Siegel with the remainder set to go to Shuster’s estate in 2013.
However, Warner Brothers and DC weren’t about to give up so easily. One of the major attacks in WB’s lawsuit was that Siegel and Shuster’s lawyer Marc Toberoff was in an unethical position as he was allegedly in the lawsuit for personal gain. You see… Toberoff is also the owner of Pacific Pictures. Warner Brothers claims that Pacific Pictures had a deal with the Superman creators’ estates to make Superman films when and if they should win back the rights to the character. This information came to Warner Brothers attention in 2010 when documents concerning the Pacific Pictures deal were leaked to them by a man named David Michaels, a former associate of Toberoff’s. Those same documents were allegedly stolen from Pacific Pictures offices in 2006.
With this new information, Warner Brothers filed a lawsuit directly against Toberoff. Toberoff claimed that this was bullying on the part of Warner Brothers and that he was protected by an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law. A judge overturned Toberoff’s complaint and WB continued their attack.
Now, in the primary case with the Siegel and Shuster estates, Warner Brothers has won yet another key item. Until now, those documents that detail the deal between Pacific Pictures and the Superman creators estates has been kept in confidentiality in the courts. But, in a ruling yesterday, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain ruled that the documents were admissible in court stating the “ethical and professional concerns raised by Toberoff’s actions.”
Toberoff had vehemently fought against the inclusion of these documents, citing a confidentiality issue since the documents were still being investigated for theft. However, O’Scannlain and his fellow two judges on the case unanimously agreed that this was not an issue. In his opinion on the documents, O’Scannlain wrote, “given that Congress has declined broadly to adopt a new privilege to protect disclosures of attorney-client privileged materials to the government, we will not do so here.”
An unnamed source close to the case told Deadline that “a huge trove of evidence is going to emerge based on today’s ruling, and if our deal with the heirs gets upheld, they will get a big check from us but they will have gotten nothing from their relationship with Toberoff but seven years of litigation.”
So it seems the tide may have turned in Warner Brothers and DC Comics’ favor at last. Only time will tell what those documents actually contain and what, if anything, they will mean in the Superman copyright battle.