LOS ANGELES — DC Comics (and its parent company, Warner Bros.) has finally won what has up till now been a never-ending battle – over the rights to what is arguably the most well known comic book character in the world: Superman. But has justice been done? U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright II ruled Wednesday that the heirs of one of the superhero’s co-creators signed away their ability to reclaim copyrights to the Man of Steel roughly 20 years ago when they accepted annual pension payments from DC Comics. The rationale is that the new contractual arrangements superseded – and voided – any previous agreements. DC Comics, in turn, sued the Schusters in 2010 on the basis that they were interfering with DC’s ability to exercise what had become its rights to the iconic character.
The ruling means that DC Comics and its owner Warner Bros. will retain all rights to continue using the character in books, films, television and other mediums, including a the film reboot planned for next year.
Shuster’s heirs had argued that the copyright agreements could be cancelled under provisions that allowed the creators of works made before 1978 a mechanism to reclaim their rights. However, Judge Wright ruled that Shuster’s sister’s decision to accept higher annual payments created a new agreement which cancelled any previous contract.
A lawyer for the Shuster family said in a statement: “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.”
Warner Bros declined to comment on the ruling.
Superman has generated more than $500m (£310m) for Warner Bros with five films at the US box office and billions of dollars more from television, toys and games, and comic books spanning 74 years.
The latest in the Superman dynasty of films, Man of Steel, is due for release in 2013.