Warner Bros. bulks up for 'Superman' litigation

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Warner Bros. bulks up for 'Superman' litigation

Mon Mar 01, 2010 @ 11:33AM PST

By Eriq Gardner and Matthew Belloni

Superman Warner Bros. has shaken up its legal team in the battle to retain copyright on the "Superman" franchise. Out are Michael Bergman and his Beverly Hills-based firm, as well as New York's Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu. Instead the studio has brought on high-powered trial lawyer Daniel Petrocelli of O'Melveny & Myers to spearhead its attempt to fight back copyright terminations from the estates of Man of Steel co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

As you'll recall, a federal judge has ruled that the Siegel family successfully recaptured key rights to the character, including the first two weeks of Superman newspaper comic strips that outline now-familiar elements of the character's mythology.

Court battles continue to rage over the scope of termination and how much money might be owed. Warners won a trial court ruling in July saying that DC Comics, not Warners, should account to the Siegels, but both are owned by parent Time Warner.   

Petrocelli,dan In 2013, the Shuster estate effectuates its own termination on Superman -- at that point, as attorney Marc Toberoff recently bragged, "Neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros. will be able to exploit any new Superman works without a license from the Siegels and Shusters." (UPDATE: To be fair, Toberoff wasn't exactly bragging, and the linked blog quoted him out of context.)

That's one reason Warners is reportedly moving forward with a franchise reboot with help from Batman vets Christopher Nolan and David Goyer. Toberoff says that if a production isn't started by 2011, he'll sue to recover damages.

Now according to a new court filing in the Siegel case, Warners' litigation counsel has been replaced. Bergman and his Weissmann Wolff firm have repped the studio for years (Warners' former general counsel John Schulman came from the firm) and we understand he will continue to handle other cases. But the studio and new GC John Rogovin now look to Petrocelli, who made his name repping the Goldman family in the O.J. Simpson civil case and handled the Winnie the Pooh litigation for Disney. 

In the Pooh case, Petrocelli faced off against Slesinger family lawyer Bert Fields and, coincidentally, attorneys at Fross Zelnick -- one of the firms he just replaced. 

Warners gave us this statement:

"Warner Bros. and DC Comics are grateful for the efforts of the Weissmann Wolff and Fross Zelnick firms in the Siegel litigation, including their important victory at the initial phase one trial of the case in May 2009, and we will continue to look to those firms for their counsel and guidance.  As the case now transitions into a separate accounting phase, we are pleased to be augmenting our team with the addition of Dan Petrocelli of O'Melveny & Myers, who has had substantial success in copyright termination accountings, most notably in the Winnie the Pooh litigation."

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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