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Superman and Warner Bros' Legal Troubles Continue

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Superman has been seeing the court room an awful lot lately as Warner Bros faces several lawsuits centered around one of their most profitable iconic superheroes.  The latest turn in events came from an ongoing lawsuit regarding who retains the rights to Superman.  Warner Bros is being sued by the heirs of the original creators of the character: writer Jerome Siegel and illustrator Joe Shuster. The rights to the character were originally purchased by DC comics over 74 years ago for only $412.  However, DC Comics (a division of Warner Bros) is fighting to retain the rights for their high-value superhero and to prevent the rights from reverting to the estate of Siegel and Shuster in 2013.

Just recently, Toberoff, the attorney for Siegel and Shuster’s heirs, has been fighting against allowing Warner Bros to use documents in the trial that were stolen from his office by a disgruntled employee.  This employee stole the documents from the case file and submitted them to Warner Bros, potentially for a monetary reward or out of anger.  Toberoff, working with law enforcement to try and recover the documents, revealed details about the documents and their contents.  The documents included email communication where Toberoff encouraged the heirs to fight for the rights in order to harness the Superman profit.  Toberoff insisted that allowing these documents to be used in the case infringed upon attorney/client privileges.  However, because he had disclosed their content to law enforcement previously, the attorney/client privilege had already been voided in the eyes of the court.  Therefore, the judge ruled that the documents could be used in the case, a decision which Warner Bros was very pleased with.  In a statement, Warner Bros says, “We are extremely pleased that the 9th Circuit unanimously found in our favor.  The ruling means that defendant Mark Toberoff must now turn over critical evidence in the pending litigation against him and others.”

Toberoff also issued a statement saying, “We cooperated with the US Attorney’s office to enable them to investigate the theft from our law firm of the Siegels and Shuster’s privileged documents.  We are disappointed in today’s decision which holds that such cooperation with law enforcement by the victims of a privacy crime, itself waives privilege as to stolen documents.  However, nothing in this ruling or the documents at issue will affect the merits of this case.  We are considering our options as to the ruling, and will continue to vigorously defend our clients’ rights.”

While the court date for this case was set to occur in October of this year, the new matters arising make it possible that the date may have to be pushed back into 2013.

Unfortunately for Warner Bros, this is not the only lawsuit they are currently facing.  The company is also being sued over funds from their popular television show Smallville.  Smallville is based on the character of Superman, and shows his younger years, including how he came to our planet, discovered his powers, met his arch nemesis, Lex Luthor, and became the Superman we all know and love.

However, the executive producers Miles Millar and Alfred Gough have been suing Warner Bros, stating that the company cheated them out of “at least” 13.4 million dollars.  Essentially, Warner Bros paid DC Comics for the rights to Superman in order to create the show.  This cost then cut into the profits and royalties given to the production company Tollin Robbins (also suing Warner Bros) and Millar and Gough.  The reason they are suing is because Warner Bros owns DC Comics, so they essentially were paying themselves for the rights, an act that could have been a shady way to hide funds and retain additional profit.

It’s been a long road for Warner Bros and their star superhero, Superman, but only time will tell what the future holds as these sagas unfurl.

About Morris Hall:
At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years.  Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, powers of attorney, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects.  We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead.  Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe.  Contact us today at 888.222.1328 to schedule an appointment!

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