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Warner Bros. owns Superman, court affirms

SAN FRANCISCO — Superman belongs to Warner Bros., according to the latest legal victory granting the film and television studio complete commercial control of the lucrative Superman franchise.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit of Appeals unanimously ruled Thursday that the heirs of Superman’s cocreator Jerome Siegel must abide by a 2001 letter written by the family’s attorney accepting Warner Bros.’ offer for their 50 percent share of Superman. Though the five-page letter was never formalized into a contract, the appeals court said it was still binding.

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‘‘Statements from the attorneys for both parties establish that the parties had undertaken years of negotiations, that they had resolved the last outstanding point in the deal during a conversation on Oct. 15, 2001, and that the letter accurately reflected the material terms they had orally agreed to on that day,’’ Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the panel.

The ruling undoes a 2008 trial court decision ordering Warner Bros. to share an undetermined amount of money earned since 1999 with the heirs.

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