[A] suit was filed in the United States District court for the Central District of California against, among others, Marc Toberoff, a lawyer and film producer who helped the heirs of the Superman co-creator Jerome Siegel win a ruling that in 2008 let them recapture rights from Warner [Brothers].
Mr. Toberoff has also represented the estate of Joseph Shuster, who with Mr. Siegel created Superman as a comic book series in the 1930s.
But Warner’s suit on Friday said Mr. Toberoff had worked for years to interfere with agreements between the studio and the heirs, to leave himself with at least 47.5 percent of any rights recovered, while the Siegel heirs and Shuster heirs would each receive only about a quarter of the rights.
Contra the New York Times, which otherwise covers the story adequately, that isn't quite what the suit alleges. The main allegations against Toberoff, as I read them (and you can too by clicking: Superman complaint) are that he has created and controls three corporations, Pacific Pictures Corporation, IP Worldwide, and IPW, LLC, which have acquired and passed around a hefty stake in whatever copyright interest the Siegel and Schuster heirs may have in the Man of Steel. An interest that is potentially worth billions.
Some of Warner's allegations, for instance that Toberoff hounded the Schuster and Siegel heirs into reasserting their copyright interest in the Son of Jor-El, an action they'd not have been inclined to pursue after years of fair treatment at the hands of DC Comics and Warner, seem positively silly. Ask the ghosts of Jack Kirby or Bill Finger how the comics industry treats its most productive and creative. But the allegation that Toberoff has surreptitiously acquired Superman, in place of a contingent fee, is a troubling one if true: A lawyer who buys his way into a client's suit commits the offense of champerty and maintenance, disbarment material in some jurisdictions. Toberoff denies it.
Warner Bros, DC Comics, and Mr. [Daniel] Pertocelli [sic] disingenously claim that I have a financial interest in the lawsuits when they know full well that the only interest I have is a contingent legal fee. And the last time I checked, a lawyer working on a contigent [sic] fee basis is legal in the State of California.
The Warner Complaint, by the way, is pure kryptonite, especially the weird anonymous letter, allegedly stolen from Toberoff's office, detailing an alleged conspiracy between Toberoff and Rahm Emmanuel's brother to cheat Warner Brothers, or to help the Siegel and Schuster heirs recover their property, depending on how one views it.
Of course if Toberoff is correct, we have the stunning news that one of the world's largest media companies is committing libel and abuse of process in a backdoor attempt to recover a copyright it's already lost in court. ALERT THE MEDIA!
But lost in all of this lawyerly bickering are the creators themselves, Siegel and Schuster, and their heirs. Too often when media conglomerates like Warner sue file sharers and similar criminals, they claim to do so in the name of protecting the rights of artists, artists who may own little or nothing of the copyrighted work, or who sold their interest for the equivalent of forty dollars in beads.