What if copyright disputes were kryptonite?
As part of a legal offensive against one of its "key legal foes," Warner Brothers' DC Comics has filed suit against Marc Toberoff, a lawyer for the families of the two men who created the iconic comic book superhero Superman.
The suit alleges that Toberoff worked to secure a deal with his clients, the families of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, that would leave him with 47.5% of any rights recovered from their copyright dispute, reports the New York Times.
Toberoff's law firm, Toberoff & Associates issued a press release (PDF) Friday calling Warner Bros.' claims "a smear campaign, disguised as a lawsuit."
The firm denies claims by Warner Bros. and its lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, that Toberoff has a financial stake in the Superman lawsuits beyond that of a fee for arguing the families' case:
Warner and Mr. Petrocelli are aware that the frivolous allegations in their complaint do not add up and will never pass muster in the federal courts. However, that's not the point of their lawsuit. Warner and Petrocelli's objective is to "muddy the waters" by attacking Mr. Toberoff, potentially conflict him out of the case, and thereby strong-arm the Siegels and Shusters into selling at a cut-rate price the copyrights they have legitimately recaptured. Such unethical tactics are nothing short of deplorable.
As part of its complaint, the studio included an anonymous letter that Toberoff says was stolen from his offices. Toberoff's press release describes the letter as a "hyperbolic rant" that contains "unsubstantiated and unattributed accusations against Toberoff."
"DC has spent decades working constructively with our talent and creators and we look foward to a speedy resolution of these matters so we can continue to share Superman with all his many fans for generations to come."
In 2008, Toberoff secured a legal victory for the Siegel family when a federal judge ruled that the heirs of Superman's co-creator were "entitled to claim a share of the United States copyright."
Deadline Hollywood explains why the clock is ticking against Warner Brothers:
The heirs of Siegel have already been awarded half the copyright for Superman. And in 2013 the heirs of co-creator Joe Shuster get the remaining half. After that, neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros will be able to use Superman without a financial agreement with the heirs.