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Judge rules Warner Bros. paid 'fair-market value' for 'Superman' rights

July 8, 2009 | 10:26 pm

A U.S. district court ruled today that Warner Bros. had paid "fair-market value" license fees to its corporate sibling DC Comics for the rights to "Superman."Cover 1

Last year, the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerome Siegel claimed that Warner Bros. and DC Comics, both owned by Time Warner Inc., had struck a "sweetheart deal" that deprived them of their fair share of royalties. A federal judge last year awarded the Siegel heirs -- his widow and daughter -- half of the copyright to the Superman material published in the comic book Action Comics No. 1. What hadn't been decided was whether the license agreements between the Burbank studio and DC Comics from 1999 to 2002 represented "fair-market value."

The judge's decision was a plus for Warner Bros., which has been in a long-running legal battle with the heirs of the comic's co-creator who last year won a stake in the U.S. copyright to the character.

In late April, a federal judge in Riverside held a 10-day bench trial to determine the matter. After considering "hundreds of exhibits, hours of testimony from several witnesses and several hours of closing arguments," the court ruled in favor of Warner Bros. and DC Comics.

"The decision validates what DC and Warner Bros. have maintained from the beginning," the companies said in a joint statement, "which is that when they do business with each other, they always strive for --and achieve -- fair-market value in their transactions."

An accounting phase of the trial will be held Dec. 1 to determine how much money the Siegel heirs are owed for their exploitations of Superman.

The Siegels' attorney, Marc Toberoff, said he did not expect to appeal today's decision. "My guess is we would not separately appeal this. This is part of a multi-faceted accounting case."

In response to the decision, Toberoff released a statement saying "the entire accounting action pales in camparison to the fact that in 2013, the Siegels, along with the estate of [co-creator] Joe Shuster, will own the entire original copyright to Superman and neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros. will be able to exploit any new Superman works without a licencse from the Siegels and Shusters."

He also pointed out that the court ruled that if Warner Bros. does not start production on a new Superman sequel by 2011, the Siegels could sue to recover their damages.

At the present time, Warner Bros. is not close to greenlighting another Superman movie. The last Superman movie it released was "Superman Returns" in 2006, which grossed $391 million in worldwide box-office sales. 

-- Claudia Eller

Photo: The first issue of Superman (c) DC Comics

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