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Supreme Court Denies Review Over Rights to ‘Superman’

The Supreme Court has denied review to a case brought by the heirs to Superman co-creator Joe Shuster that sought to reclaim the rights to the Man of Steel.

The Supreme Court’s action lets stand a lower court ruling in favor of DC Comics, which has blocked efforts by Shuster’s family members to reclaim copyrights in Superman. A provision of the Copyright Act allows authors to terminate and reclaim previous assignments of copyrights, although certain conditions must first be met.

The decision on Monday means that a lower court ruling stands in favor of DC Comics, which contended that a 1992 deal they made with Shuster’s sister Jean Peavy and Frank Shuster had given up their ability to reclaim the Superman copyrights. The deal included pension payments of about $25,000 per year.

But the Shuster family, represented by Marc Toberoff, contended that Shuster’s siblings could not have given up such a termination right in 1992 because none existed at the time. It was not until 1998 that termination rights were given to executors of an estate, instead of just children and spouses. The family also cited language of the Copyright Act that allows for termination “notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary.”

The petition for review drew amicus briefs from organizations including the The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which argued that it as the latest example of the Ninth Circuit’s “extreme hostility to copyright plaintiffs.”

But the Ninth Circuit, in its 2-1 decision, argued that the Shuster family’s reading of the Copyright Act would have conflicted with “extensive legislative history.”

DC Comics was represented by Daniel Petrocelli of O’Melveny & Myers.

The Supreme Court said that Chief Justice John Roberts took no part in the decision to deny review.

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