By Jeff Trexler
Other comic news sites are reporting a bombshell development in DC’s legal fight to hold onto the Superman copyright: on Monday, the company filed a court document asserting that the Shuster estate had actually sold its share of the Superman copyright back to DC in 1992 and affirmed this sale in subsequent correspondence.
This was indeed a stunning piece of news — back in 2009, when DC first made this argument. Click below for an explanation of why DC brought it up again in a court filing on Monday.In 2009, DC Comics filed the hotly disputed lawsuit in which it is attempting to get the Superman copyright termination claims thrown out of court on the basis of misconduct by Siegel & Shuster heir lawyer Marc Toberoff. One of the arguments made in the 2009 complaint: the Shuster estate has no legal grounds for filing a termination claim, inasmuch as the estate signed an agreement in 1992 selling all of its copyright interests, including any termination right, to DC in exchange for a pension for Joe Shuster’s sister. The 2009 complaint went to assert that the Shuster estate affirmed this agreement in correspondence after the Siegel heirs filed their own termination claim.
The 1992 agreement and the related argument have been discussed by any number of writers since DC first made the claim, including me here at The Beat, and has been the subject of many court filings over the past three years. DC brought it up again on Monday as part of a standard legal move in a case such as this. Its July 16 filing wasn’t a Perry Mason-esque unveiling of surprising new facts. Rather, it was a routine motion for summary judgment.
In a motion for summary judgment, a party is asking the judge to make a ruling based on the existing case record without going forward with a trial. The factual predicate for such a decision is supposed to be the case’s undisputed facts. That’s why you see the abbreviation “SUF” throughout the most recent filing — it’s a reference to the “Statement of Undisputed Facts” proposed by DC. The summary judgment filing, the proposed SUF and the attached exhibits collect all of the material favorable to DC in order to persuade the judge to make a final judgment in its favor regarding the claims initially filed in the 2009 complaint (as amended somewhat a year later).
This isn’t to say the summary judgment filing is unimportant — to the contrary, it could lead to the end of the case or at least provide the basis of an appeal, as we have already seen following the district court’s historic 2008 summary judgment giving the Siegel heirs half of the Superman copyright. However, what this filing does not do is add unexpected arguments and facts. The whole point of a summary judgment filing is to say there’s nothing new left to discuss.