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Superman decision analysis


We’re going to have to leave explaining this one to the lawyers. Short version — while the decision did rule in WB/DC’s favor, it did leave the matter of a Superman film up in the air, as further delays in making a Superman movie could be seen as actionable.

Brian Cronin at CBR:

A major point that you have to understand is that it is not the Court’s responsibility to determine if DC Comics got the best deal possible, but only that the deal was reasonable. In fact, Larson basically seemed to come down on the side of thinking that the licensing fee DC was paid for Superman Returns was on the low side of things, but he did not feel that it was unreasonably low. Larson specifically denied the Siegels’ claim that Superman should be treated like a major novel or a musical, as Larson agreed with the defendants that in the case of comic book licensing, the film company is licensing the characters, not the story (as noted by the many years that Warner Bros. Entertainment spent trying to come up with a workable script for a Superman film). When a film company licenses a novel, however, they’re basically getting a rough screenplay right from the beginning, and as such, popular novels and musicals are much more valuable. So even if Larson felt that the licensing fee was a bit on the low side, it was still a reasonable fee.

Jeff Trexler, who has been following Superman related legal cases for a long time, has a brief analysis here, and a longer piece here including the news that a special master has been assigned to the case:

The judge presiding over the Siegel Superman trials has set December 1, 2009 as the start date for the apportionment phase, with a pre-trial hearing scheduled for November 9. But that doesn’t mean the case will be dormant until then. Citing the difficulties evident in determining the fair market value of the Superman properties, the judge has provided for the appointment of a special master/court-appointed expert to issue a report before the trial. The parties have until July 31 to make a joint stipulation as to who this master/expert should be. As the court indicates, the appointment of a special master is appropriate in cases that involve accounting issues and other complex matters that could be difficult for a judge to resolve effectively.

  1. Well, just got done reading the judges 26 page decision in the Warners/DC vs S&S, and it is pretty fascinating. The most interesting thing is what idiots the lawyers and witnesses for S&S and Warners/DC are. Apparently Warners won this recent case by default due to lack of any evidence that made sense by S&S.

    The S&S copyright applies to Action Comics #1 ONLY. That explains a lot! Also…if S&S DID indeed get the rights back…and that does mean JUST to Action #1, then that means NO kryptonite, NO Lex Luthor, NO fortress of Solitude, NO flying, NO superhearing, NO Daily Planet, NO Perry White etc.

    There are a LOT of “if’s” in this decision and certainly not cause to get too excited about…well…anything. As far as Shuster and Siegal retaining anything in 2013…BIG if. As far as Warners doing any movies by 2012…that’s practically a certainty NOT to happen. And it also looks like Warners and DC are joined at the hip for the forseeable future regarding any movie stuff. The decision also seems to say (if you check out the “agreements” section), that if anything DC is making Warners pay TOO MUCH money to continue to retain the rights they currently have.

    However…it does show why Warners entertained the idea of the Burton/Cage version. It would seem that it was an obvious attempt to do an end run around S&S and Action Comics #1. If they could have come up with a viable story about Superman that had none of the elements of Action Comics, and it had worked, then they wouldn’t be beholden to the S&S estates. Granted, it most likely would have failed without the use of the word Superman or Lois Lane, but it did show that they were doing it for a reason other than some director simply “re-interpreting” the character. It was an obvious attempt by Warners to test the waters or possibly an intimidation tactic to be used against S&S.

    Also…I don’t get how some of the sites running this story came to the conclusions that they did. The S&S estates are not a united front so you have problems there.

    You have what the judge accurately described as the “tangled web” that exists between Warners and DC. Adding onto that…the decision also shows that Warners is NOT under any obligation to “fast track” anything. The only incentive for Warners to make a movie (aside from the obvious being to exploit Superman to their financial benifit by making a successful series of films which they’ve been incapable of doing since Superman The Movie) is to stop paying the steep price to retain the rights for as long as they have, but they’ve been paying that fee for decades now. That’s obviously not bothering them at all.

    If anything this decision shows that Superman is on the brink of oblivion as far as the films are concerned. And until the S&S estates get unified or until Shuster wins his case to get his share of the rights from Action 1, then it certainly won’t affect the comic book in the least. It’s entirely possible that we won’t see this resolved for a decade at the very least.
    Perhaps in time for Supermans 80th or 85th anniversary?

    I hope the S&S estates do get unified. I would love to see DC and Warner lose Superman. I would love to see a completly new Superman mythos based on Action #1. And if that did happen, I would have a whole new reason to go to the DC booths at the conventions….so I could laugh and laugh and laugh…

  2. This is stupid. Why would anyone even consider giving the Superman rights back to the Seagal and Shuster estates? The family members had nothing to do with the creation of Superman. They’re just trying to make money off of their dead relatives’ work.

    Besides, too much time has passed. Action #1 came out in…1939? Somewhere around there. At some point, you just gotta say “Too late. You lose. Get on with your lives.”

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