Summary Judgment Reversed in Favor of Superman’s Copyright Holders

A few months back DC comics and Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc. successfully appealed a California district judge’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Laura Siegel Larson, the heir of Joe Siegel, the creator of Superman.

The issue at hand in the appeal was whether the parties reached an agreement on the transfer of the copyright in the Superman character. The court determined that a letter mailed from Larson’s attorney constituted an acceptance of DC’s offer and was therefore binding on the parties. The court cited the letter itself which stated the heirs have “accepted DC Comics offer of October 16, 2001 in respect to the ‘Superman’…properties.” The letter outlined years of negotiations between DC and Siegel’s heirs which apportioned substantial compensation to the heirs and gave DC the right to produce works based upon the Superman character. Statements from the attorneys indicated that the letter reflected the material terms that the parties agreed upon and was therefore binding. The court also said that California contract law allows parties to be bound even if some aspects of the contract will be prepared at a later date. The court’s decision can be found here: Larson v. Warner Bros

The context surrounding this case seems more like a problem from a 1L contracts class. It’s simple: negotiations + oral agreements + letter summarizing negotiation with major contract points + signature of duly authorized agent = binding terms.

See also 17 USCS § 204(a) Execution of transfers of copyright ownership

(a) A transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent.