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MAJOR Ruling in the Siegel Superman Case

Check out my write-up of the news here. This is majorly heady stuff, and if anyone wants to talk about the legal aspects of the case, feel free to ask questions here. Maybe I can do a FAQ in the future.

48 Comments

They should sell their half to Marvel.

Wow!

I wonder what affect this could have on future movies, cartoons and Smallville?

Also, IF Superman were to become Public Domain….does that mean Marvel could introduce the character in their Universe? Sorta like how they both have a version on Hercules, maybe?

I’m not up my Public Domain laws, but from what I’ve read this could get real interesting…

Man……I’m just glad that justice is finally served. Maybe the sigel’s can find somebody that can actually write the character.

It’s a shame Lee and Ditko couldn’t have saved Spider-Man.

I’m a bit confused on this point:

“Therefore, in 2013, Shuster’s estate (represented by Shuster’s nephew Mark Peary) will terminate just like Siegel’s heirs, meaning DC might very well lose the copyright to Superman entirely until 2033, at which point Superman would enter the public domain.”

So in 2013 if DC loses the copyright and both creator’s estates are terminated then who holds the copyright to Superman for the next 20 years?

The Indestructible Man

March 28, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Knowing how things seem to operate in the DCU nowadays, I’d guess Batman would get the copyright — and hold it over Superman’s head like the Kryptonite he usually carries…

Kyle: You’re misreading the term “terminate.” It means that the heirs nullify the sale of the copyright TO DC, and reclaim it. So right now, DC owns half the copyright to Superman, and the Siegels own the other. If, in 2013, the Shuster estate terminates the sale of its half, then it becomes co-owner with the Siegels.

Also, IF Superman were to become Public Domain….does that mean Marvel could introduce the character in their Universe? Sorta like how they both have a version on Hercules, maybe?

I’m not sure how that would work. Probably only stuff that originated in the very first comic would be in the Public Domain, or perhaps only stuff created by Siegel and Shuster?

If you use a Public Domain character in your stories, the specific stuff you creates for your version of the character is still yours (until that too eventually slips into the public domain, I think).

If only Action Comics #1 enters public domain, then Marvel probably wouldn’t be able to give “their” Superman flight and x-ray abilities and the kryptonite weakness, since these elements were introduced later.

Why was just issue #1 of Action not a work for hire, when every other issue was? And does this copyright cover just reprints of the 58+ year old books themselves, or current iterations of the character? Most importantly, doesn’t DC still maintain a TRADEMARK on the characters, ensuring no one else could put his picture or name on the cover of anything they choose to reprint (or commission) with Superman in it? I’m so confused.

Dan (other Dan)

March 28, 2008 at 10:13 pm

It’s great to see Siegel & Shuster get their due. Leaving alone most of the legal concerns, I think it’s important for proper credit to be given to the creators.
Maybe now my copy of Action Comics #1 will finally be worth something!

You know why I love this blog (besides the fact that I write for it)? Because the commenters on it aren’t completely insane, like those on the Newsarama thread about this story. Man, those people are nutty and way too angry about this. But it’s fun to read Scott Chantler ranting about what a bunch of tools they are.

The Newsarama people aren’t insane, just selfish. They’re against anything that might shatter the illusion that the fake universe to which they’ve devoted so much emotional energy is anything but an accident of publishing history.

wow…..those newsarama guys must be affected by red kryptonite…..or whatever color it is that turn people into jerk wads….

So in 2013 if DC loses the copyright and both creator’s estates are terminated then who holds the copyright to Superman for the next 20 years?

Yeah, as Michael pointed out, terminate just means terminate DC’s copyright.

The Siegels and Shuster’s estate would co-own the copyright until 2033.

Why was just issue #1 of Action not a work for hire, when every other issue was? And does this copyright cover just reprints of the 58+ year old books themselves, or current iterations of the character? Most importantly, doesn’t DC still maintain a TRADEMARK on the characters, ensuring no one else could put his picture or name on the cover of anything they choose to reprint (or commission) with Superman in it? I’m so confused.

Because the story in Action Comics #1 was written by Siegel and Shuster already. DC bought the story (and the characters within them) FROM Siegel and Shuster.

The later stories, however, DC paid the Shusters to write FOR them – so DC is considered the owners of those stories, from a copyright perspective.

It’s a narrow difference, I know, but I think one that pretty clearly falls on the side of Siegel and Shuster. The story in Action Comics #1 was written many months before DC went looking for stories to put in Action Comics #1.

And yes, DC still owns all the trademarks (including the name and the big red S).

I love that this blog for the most part has civil comments and discussion. Very refreshing.

Although I must admit I first interpreted Greg and Mr Midnight’s posts as “Newsarama people are crazy because they don’t agree with me” and I was going to call you out on it. Which probably would have come across as snarky and asshole-ish, and therefore rendered your points invalid. Which then would have made you look stupid. So you have me to thank for you not looking stupid.

You’re welcome.

I don’t mind the Newsarama guys, I think it’s just a case of not knowing the history. If they did, I doubt they’d react the same way.

You should see posters at the Superman Homepage. Everyone’s all “oh no, where will I get my Superman fix? Screw the selfish Shusters!” It’s sickening. You’d think the people over there would be more versed in the legal history of their favourite character than the Newsarama posters, but apparently not.

Just made my first ever post at newsarama about this, and I’m duplicating it here:

I’m always amused by people who, having read a headline and maybe a couple paragraphs about a subject, think they know more about it than people who have been putting literally years of work into it (and this includes lawyers).

I wonder what affect this could have on future movies, cartoons and Smallville?

I think Smallville is covered under the Superboy lawsuit; and the people from the movie branch of things have always been nice to the Siegels. Well, at least nicer than DC. In fact they were still invited to take a tour and see the filming of Superman Returns, even though they had all those lawsuits going on.

Also, IF Superman were to become Public Domain….does that mean Marvel could introduce the character in their Universe?

If Marvel is still around in 2033, I think so. Yes. He’ll have to wear the original custome as seen in Action or a new one, on account that DC owns the trademarks. Also, the “S” will have to be different from the current one.

I’m not up my Public Domain laws, but from what I’ve read this could get real interesting…

You mean like Captain America leading the Justice League for DC and Superman going to Marvel?

Well, even though it is fun to speculate; the reality is different. Think of it as “co-writing” a song. If U2 decided to play all your songs in a concert, that wouldn’t mean that you’d get half the proceeds from the concert. No. You’d get a generous licensing fee and royalties. And that’s about it. But they still get paid. It’s great because they can just sit back and let DC do all the work.

In fact, after all this fighting, I’d doubt they would pull a Chester Lampwick.

wow… that’s incredible!

jazzbo…thank you for making not look stoopid.

And let me apologize if my comment did indeed make this other wise civil forum seem lowered in standards in some way. Definitely not my attention.

And to clarify what some of the comments on Newsarama were that made me react that way…

Mentioning that Sigel and Shuster sold their rights to the character in 1938 and therefore have lost their rights to the charcter for $130.

There is a great deal of historical truth in the statement of course…but they were kids…..hungry out of work kids living in the depression. $130 back then was like a Willie Wonka Golden Ticket and I think they rushed the decision in a naive manner and that they were indeed exploited and victimized.

If not then…surely when D.C (National) realized exactly what type of cash cow they had on their hands and never tried to even things up into the court action suits started to roll in.

The other comment that really got to me was several people were pointing that D.C has already paid the Sigels and Shusters several times in the past as a result from these court actions.

True once again…..but in my mind they could have paid those guys the same amount of cash……….EVERY year since 1938 and those two guys would have still not recieved what they rightfully deserved.

D.C more than likely makes the amount of the previous cash statements paid to Sigel and Shuster…in a day.

Finally….the “I can’t believe there are comic readers out there happy about this…”

Spoken like a true heartless, non-creative……..jerkwad.

I think it’s just a case of not knowing the history. If they did, I doubt they’d react the same way.

Your charity does you credit.

But all it takes is any threat of the flow of superhero comics even slowing down and the lynch mob forms in seconds. You have to show some sort of concrete assurance that the DCU will not be materially affected by this and yes, Superman will still be there waiting for you on Wednesday. Then, MAYBE, you’d get a little desultory interest in the history.

I still can’t believe, especially after displays like the one at Newsarama, that so many people lined up to scream bloody murder at me because I suggested there was something unhealthy and weird and even addictive about that kind of behavior.

Dan (other Dan)

March 29, 2008 at 9:31 am

Does this ruling apply to the whole of Action Comics #1 or just the Superman story within? Was the rest of the issue created as a work for hire once National agreed to release the comic? Could this potentially affect the use of Zatarra and related characters?

Coming from a heartless non-creative jerkwad Im going to try and play devils advocate here. While I understand this ruling and it makes sense. The famaily does deserve to get Action #1 back based on the law, the constant belief that the families were screwed and they deserve all this back money dosn’t hold water.
As pointed out 150 bucks was a lot of money..if this character had flopped the company would have been the ones who made a bad deal, no one twisted Shuster or Siegals arms to sell the story. I wish people who worked in comics would understand buisness a little more. When you work for a company they are paying you for your idea…what they do with that idea and whether it goes big or not is not up to you anymore unless it is put into your contract. You can not go back and complain later that it made more money than you thought and you want a bigger slice. Im sorry no one owes you a damn thing you have already been paid.
Just to clarify, Yes I understand that Action #1 was not done as work for higher, that is why while Im not thrilled with the judgement I understand under the law it was the right one, but this argument comes up a lot in comics, and I feel sometimes we blindly side with creators against the evil companies.

Of course, who knows whether Congress will pass another extension before then.

They really oughta just cut the crap and pass a Steamboat Willie Protection Act.

As irritated as I am about the absurd state of copyright law in this country, I can’t fault the Siegel estate for using it to their advantage.

Comic fans are a bit like the Spacing Guild in DUNE. The Comics Must Flow- all other issues are irrelevant.

This pretty much will put DC out of business.

Does anybody know why the copyright termination date became effective as of 1999?

Looking at the dates: 1938 + 56 years would imply the original copyright protection would have expired in 1994, at which point the Siegel estate could have exercised their termination.

I’m not a lawyer, just asking based on Brian’s article.

Another question: Do the Siegel’s now have standing to go after properties that infringe on the Superman copyright? I’m thinking of characters like the original Captain Marvel, Hyperion from Marvel, Underdog, etc.

Ha! I will admit, Bryan, that I was just hoping that noone picked up on that. I decided it was way too confusing to explain in a piece that was already pretty complicated. That said, for a brief (and so not thorough) explanation, the Siegels had a 5 year period in which to terminate, and they used it all. So DC gets those extra five years. It is a lot more complicated then that, but that is the basics.

As for your other question, I dunno for sure, but prolly not.

Ok, let me see if I follow this correctly (and for once I’m not trying to be funny or a smart ass):

This ruling is based on Superman as he appeared in Action Comics #1. So this is before the flying, kryptonite, diamond shaped “S” symbol, Lex or the rest of his Rogues Gallery, heat vision, super everything except strength and leaping ability. So in effect it gives the Siegels half the copyright to a five or so page story and an origin that has been fleshed out so much to make the original story almost obsolete.

So if that’s the case, nobody really has anything to worry about.

But as a defense to those who are upset over it, I can see their point of view. Because in just looking at it, it seems like this- a local artist does a painting, you buy it from him or her for a couple of hundred dollars then years later you sell it at an auction for a million and the artists family says “Hey you owe us some of that money.” It’s not that simple, but on first glance, it seems that way.

Thanks for the answers Brian.

For what it’s worth, I predict both this and the Superboy case will be settled out of court. I don’t think either party would want the risk associated with a jury decision on compensation.

[...] March 29, 2008 in comic books, comics, court, dc, dc comics, entertainment, jerry siegel, legal, ruling, superman by hookakat1 Tags: comic books, comics, court, dc, dc comics, entertainment, jerry siegel, legal, ruling, superman http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2008/03/28/major-ruling-in-the-siegel-superman-case/ [...]

Hmm. Interesting.

Y’know, since he’s far and away my favorite version of the character, I wouldn’t mind seeing some new stories based on the Golden Age Superman.

I know the history and I’m still pretty selfish. Granted, I’m not going to spout out a bunch of ignorant cruelties on a message board, but I’d rather have my shared universe kept pristine, what with Kon-El running around alive, than a bunch of creator’s rights. I’m just a jerk.

I can see the logic on both sides of the debate re: compensation, but have a really, really hard time understanding where all the vitriol against the Siegels is coming from anyway.

As several brave souls tried to point out on the Newsarama thread…they had a legal recourse, and they took it, and it was granted to them. This doesn’t make them ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘idealistic’ or ‘greedy’; it makes them shrewd and practical. Same way DC/TimeWarner behaved in their turn.

But all it takes is any threat of the flow of superhero comics even slowing down and the lynch mob forms in seconds.

This is the other part that’s freaking me out. There are people who seriously believe this will result in no Superman anywhere anymore ever?

Actually, km, I think they believe it will result in no DC Universe anywhere anymore ever. Or at least not as it exists now.

The latest piece of confusion seems to be over what having the copyright to Action Comics #1 entails. When people talk about the whole limits of what it copyrights (no heat vision, no expanded origin,etc.), that is just a limit of what the Siegels can use…DC, meanwhile, if they lose the copyright in 2013, would ONLY get access to the post-Action Comics #1 stuff, which is effectively useless for DC.No alien from Krypton, no Clark Kent, no Lois Lane, no…well, everything else that was in that story.

Brian, I have a question about the public domain thing. You stated that Superman will enter the public domain in 2033 under the current copyright law. But isn’t the copyright terms different when it’s owned by the individual creators and their estates? I thought the copyright terms were 95 years in case of corporate ownership, and creators’ lifetime plus 70 years in case of creator ownership. Since Siegel passed away in 1996, I thought his heirs’ portion of the Superman copyright would not become public domain until 2066. Or is it different when the copyright is reclaimed from corporate ownership?

It’s totally understandable how that could be confusing, SKFK.

Those laws you mention are for more recent copyrights (and all future copyrights). Old copyrights, like Superman, just got a flat extra 20 years, making it a flat 95 years, so 2033.

Thanks a lot for the answer, Brian. I forgot about the different standards for copyrighted material created before the changes in the law.

You know,

I would love to egg on these posters with the notion that in 1980 DC outright bought the rights to Captain Marvel, and can continue publishing “his” comics beyond 2033; with him leading the Justice League and starring in all the Countdowns, Arenas & Trinities that your heart could desire.

But the fact of the matter is that “Superman”, it’s ownership, trademarks and copyrights are ASSETS (like Land); and DC, Time-Warner and all the people involve already charge themselves (and others) a fee for its usage. It’s basic Cost Accounting 101. I should know, I amortized Smokey the Bear for USDA’s 2001 Financial Statements.

Anyways,

“The flow” of Superman comics won’t stop; it’s just that the usage fee will be smaller because half of it will go to the Siegel heirs.

If I were DC, I would hedge my bets by arranging an exclusive long-term contract with the Shuster heirs, so as to secure the exclusive rights through 2033.

After that… well, they can still enforce their trademarks. It’s like the Fleischer Superman Cartoons. They are in the public domain; but you have to be very carefull as to “how” you sell them.

“The flow” of Superman comics won’t stop; it’s just that the usage fee will be smaller because half of it will go to the Siegel heirs.

Edit:
“The flow” of Superman comics won’t stop; it’s just that the net revenue will be smaller because half of the usage fee will go to the Siegel heirs.

For those of you who are of the “no one forced them to sell for a small amount” crowd, please keep in mind just how long ago this was. This was quite unpresedented. There is no reason to expect that the young Siegal and Shuster could have predicted the sucess of their creation.

Just as the incredible screwing of Judd and Krikfalushi (sp?) by MTV over Beavis and Butthead and Ren and Stimpy just a few years (decades? where has the time gone) ago.

The fact that these people got screwed over did make for people like the South Park creators being more wary about what contracts they signed. But, I think that some sympathy should go to the people who got screwed in the first place.

Especially since they are really just using the law to try and recover a bit of what they are rightfully owed, the same way that the law was used against them so many years ago when they didn’t know any better.

Theno

“For those of you who are of the “no one forced them to sell for a small amount” crowd, please keep in mind just how long ago this was. This was quite unpresedented. There is no reason to expect that the young Siegal and Shuster could have predicted the sucess of their creation.”

Also this was during the depression and people were desperate to make even a little bit of money.

I’m not too worried. DC/Time Warner needs Superman and the Superman in Action Comics 1 isn’t as profitable as the Superman that we have today (can’t fly, no kryptonite, Lex Luthor). They’ll work out some sort of aggreement, Time Warner will have to shell out a little bit more money and life will go on.

Time Warner will wind up paying the estate whatever they want to keep the character. The Big S brings in millions of dollars in merchandising revenue alone.

Not necessarily. First they co-own it until 2013. If Shuster’s heir get the second half in 2013, it’s a problem for Dc as they can’t use the super-powered alien from Krypton who has a double identity as a mild-mannered reporter and Lois Lane. They still own the TM Superman and can use it on another character (they did that already, there is the Tangent character)
So their options are: change the costume, change the powers, change the double identity, remove Lois Lane, which are several things DC already did but doing it for twenty years…
By 2033 it becomes public domain and they can make Superman’s return and reuse all the elements.

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