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‘Superman’ Can Stay at Warner Bros., Court Rules

The studio will release "Man of Steel," a Superman film produced by Christopher Nolan, next summer


The Man of Steel is staying at Warner Bros.

The studio won a major victory in appeals court on Thursday that maintains its control of the Superman franchise through subsidiary DC Comics.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Warner Bros.’ argument that it made a binding deal with the estate of Superman co-creator Jerome Siegel in 2001 compensating the estate in exchange for the studio's continued hold on the copyright to the famous superhero. A federal court had ruled in 2008 that Siegel’s estate could reclaim its copyright as part of a law that lets artists undo an earlier deal — provided they wait 35 years.

The appeals court has rejected that ruling because of the settlement reached in 2001, though the estate can appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

The studio had already won a similar battle against the estate of Superman co-creator Joseph Shuster.

The two deals give Warner's a firm hold on the character, which it continues to exploit in myriad ways. Next summer, the studio plans to release “Man of Steel,” a new Superman movie from director Zack Snyder, produced by “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan and starring a new man in the blue tights, Henry Cavill.

“Today’s ruling vindicates DC Comics’ long-held position that it entered into a binding agreement with the Jerry Siegel family in 2001,” Warner Bros. said in a statement. “The Court’s decision paves the way for the Siegels finally to receive the compensation they negotiated for and which DC has been prepared to pay for over a decade.  We are extremely pleased that Superman’s adventures can continue to be enjoyed across all media platforms worldwide for generations to come. “

Siegel and Shuster created Superman in the early 1930s, and he first appeared in Action Comics in 1938. The artists sold the character to Detective Comics for cheap, later reaching an agreement with DC's parent company Warner Bros. in 1975 that gave them $4 million.

A year after the co-creators reached that settlement with Warner Bros, Congress passed the Copyright Act of 1976, permitting artists to reclaim copyrights years after selling them. The artists’ estates have since tried to exploit that new law, efforts impeded by other compensatory settlements.

“Because a judgment on those claims in DC’s favor would appear to render moot all of the other questions in this lawsuit, we decline to address these other issues at this time,” the court's ruling said.