Legal issues over the copyright continue to swirl in court. (Drawn by Jim Lee )
Warner Bros. has filed a series of explosive allegations against its longtime legal nemesis as a key decision looms that could affect its ownership of Superman.
The Burbank studio's DC Comics unit said in a legal filing Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court that attorney Marc Toberoff, who has represented the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their eight-year fight to regain control of the Man of Steel character, has engaged in "willful concealment of evidence."
Warner Bros.' attorneys and Toberoff argued at a hearing last month over requests for summary judgment in the Shuster heirs' effort to terminate Warner Bros.' copyright to the character. A decision is expected very soon.
In 2008, a judge ruled in favor of the heirs of Siegel that they could reclaim control of 50% of the Superman rights owned by Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. is appealing that decision. A hearing on that and other claims related to the long-running legal battle is scheduled for Nov. 5.
In its Wednesday filing, Warner alleged that Toberoff withheld correspondence between Siegel's daughter Laura and her half-brother Michael that demonstrate Warner made a binding deal with them in 2001. That evidence impacts Warner's ability to win the appeal of the prior Siegel decision, the studio's attorneys said.
In addition, Warner is seeking sanctions against Toberoff for his alleged misconduct.
If the pending decision in the Shuster case comes down in favor of the late comic book writer's family, and Warner's appeal of the Siegel decision fails, the combined heirs could by next November force the studio to make a new deal with them in order to continue using some key elements of the Superman mythos -- a deal that could be very costly. Warner is trying to inaugurate a new series of Superman movies with a big budget movie, "Man of Steel," scheduled for release next June.
Toberoff said that Warner's latest allegations were a distraction because the studio expects a negative decision regarding the Shusters' copyright termination claim.
"The summary judgment hearing went very badly for DC and this is a distraction tactic to muddy the waters in an attempt to elicit bias," he said.
But Warner attorney Daniel Petrocelli said the two issues are not related.
"As Mr. Toberoff well knows, the current motion has nothing to do with the summary judgment issues before the court, which relate only to the Shusters," he said. "In addition, as the motion points out, we have tried for months to resolve our differences with Mr. Toberoff and his lawyers to no avail."
Warner gets victory in legal fight with Superman heirs' attorney
Judge rules Warner Bros. paid 'fair market value' for 'Superman' rights
Warner Bros. alleges scheme in suit against copyright litigator Marc Toberoff