Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

January 10, 2013

Big Court Win For The Warner Team On The Superman Matter

imageIf I'm understanding articles like this one correctly, it's been decided that a 2001 exchange between the Siegel family and the corporate owners of Superman is a binding agreement in a way that vacates the surprise 2008 decision that gave significant aspects of the character and its milieu back to the families. It's been that decision against which Warners has been appealing in a very significant way with a crack team of legal ass-kickers since that time -- and this looks like the kind of victory that makes career reputations of the lead lawyers and puts some of the key people working on it on the fast track to partnership. The Shuster family's claim was vacated last Fall in similar previous-arrangement fashion.

The second-guessing is likely to come in two areas: whether or not lawyer Marc Toberoff had led the families away from a benign settlement with the promise of riches, which has been a dominant argument in cartooning circles and late-night convention talk for a couple of years now, and whether or not there should have been a greater push for a settlement in 2008 when that surprise decision came down. I don't know that that would have been possible, but I can't imagine that people will stop criticizing the losing side here.

I've never really afforded the legal back-and-forth the standing to ultimately inform the wider issues involved, as I suspect a lot of people have on both sides of this. I remember being yelled at that I didn't include the families as my "winner of the week" when that 2008 decision went down. I might have changed it, actually, but I remember my original impulse was that the families just won a bunch of new time in court rooms and deposition rooms and the ire of fans. They certainly don't look like they won much of anything now. It could be that I believe this just because I'm a slippery guy that wants to afford myself rhetorical room to win Internet arguments. Heck, it may be a moral failing on my part, that I don't afford enough respect to the way the laws are set up and the advantages that accrue to those protections. I don't know. I could also just be willfully dumb or naive here. But I always think that once you push for a legal solution the legal solution ends up being the one you get, no matter how it lines up with what you want or what the best outcome might be or even what's just. If they don't line up, that suggests that all of those things can be found elsewhere. I'll continue to seek them.

I always thought this would be the basic result -- and I guess it isn't 100 percent yet, just sort of approaching that state rapidly unless somebody convinces me otherwise -- so it's hard for me to be angry or upset about the legal decision itself. That simply is. I have been disturbed along the way by aspects of the case as they relate to what I feel is a culture of exploitation that dominates comics. This includes a lot of things, from the lack of generosity in the way some folks have processed why a family might want to sue for rights they feel they're due, to things like how people see certain motivations or baseline attitudes as being set in stone when I feel they're very much up for discussion.

One nice thing about the original linked-to article is that, again, if I'm reading it correctly, Warners is going to push through that original deal that they negotiated with the families and see that they get those monies. They might have to: they're endorsing it as a binding agreement. Still, that's better than a lot of conceivable outcomes.
posted 8:00 am PST | Permalink

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