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CSBG Archive

Superman Copyright FAQ

I think there’s actually a lot more good information out there about this current situation than the Superboy ruling from awhile back, but there’s enough confusion that a FAQ could probably still be useful.

Enjoy!

What is a copyright?

Copyright is a legal right that gives the creator of an original work specific rights to the original work, such as the right to control who can copy the work, who can adapt the work, who can publish the work or heck, who can financially benefit from the work, period.

So, who owns the copyright of Superman?

As of this moment, as per the ruling by Judge Stephen Larson on March 26, 2008, Superman’s copyright is owned in two equal parts by DC Comics/Time Warner and the heirs of Superman co-creator, Jerry Siegel.

Why do the Siegels own half?

Because, in 1997, they gave notice that they were terminating their half of the 1938 transfer of the Superman copyright from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to DC Comics, and the termination became effective as of 1999 (Joe Shuster’s half remains owned by DC).

Why can they terminate the copyright?

When Siegel and Shuster sold Superman to DC Comics, the status of copyrighted material in the United States was that they last for 28 years, with the right to renew for an additional 28 years – making it a total of 56 years. In 1976, Congress extended the renewal period from 28 years to 47 years (an increase of 19 years), making it a total of 75 years. At the time, Congress decided that people who transferred a copyright before 1978 (when the extension kicked in) deserved a chance to terminate the transfer to gain the benefit of the extra 19 years. Their theory was that when people sold their copyright, they did so under the idea it would be for 56 years, and since it was now for 75 years, the creator of the original work, or their heirs, should get back the copyright for the extra time, presumably to get financially compensated again, if the copyright still had value.

Why can the Siegels terminate the copyright and Joe Shuster’s estate can’t?

Because the 1976 Copyright Act applied only to the author or his/her heirs. Siegel had heirs, Shuster did not.

What is the work-for-hire exception?

If a copyright was created under work-for-hire, then it is not eligible for termination, as the copyright is considered to have been created by the company who employed the creators, not the creators themselves. For instance, cartoon characters created for Disney by Disney employees are considered creations of the Walt Disney corporation, not their individual workers.

Why was Superman not considered to be a work-for-hire?

In this particular instance, Siegel and Shuster had written the comic that was the lead story in Action Comics #1 many months before they sold the story to DC Comics. Therefore, they were not considered to have written the comic FOR DC Comics. Instead, it was a work that they sold TO DC Comics, and thereby not a work-for-hire, so it would be a standard copyright transfer and eligible for termination.

What does it mean that the Siegels only own the copyright to Action Comics #1?

Once they sold the first Superman story to DC Comics, Siegel and Shuster became employees of DC, so every comic they wrote AFTER Action Comics #1 WOULD be considered work-for-hire, so anything created after Action Comics #1 would be owned by DC.

So what do the Siegels own, exactly?

The Siegels own half of the copyright to everything introduced in the first issue of Action Comics #1, which, really, is the vast majority of everything folks associate with Superman. The name Superman, the secret identity of Clark Kent, the fact that he is an alien who came to Earth from an alien planet as a baby, his super strength, invulnerability and ability to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, the red, yellow and blue costume with a red “S” on his chest and a red cape on his back, and his fellow reporter, Lois Lane. The Siegels co-own all of that, which is basically everything.

What do they NOT own?

While the specifics would be determined by a jury, it seems pretty safe to say that they do not own everything after Action Comics #1, like Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Superman being able to fly, Superman’s vision powers, Superman’s expanded origin (the whole “Red Son” stuff).

What about trademarks?

DC still owns all of the notable trademarks, specifically the name Superman, the “S” symbol, the visual look of Superman and some other notable features (like the slogan “Up, Up and Away!”).

What does that mean that they own the trademarks?

Trademarks are for commerce purposes, so advertisements and the covers of comic books. So no one can advertise a Superman comic book, in an ad or on the cover of a comic book, other than DC Comics.

What does that mean for the Siegels’ rights to use the character?

It means that if they were to license Superman to another company, like Marvel, that company would not be allowed to call the character Superman on the cover of the comic, nor would they be able to use the changes to the character post-Action Comics #1, like the more detailed S on Superman’s chest or the expanded powers.

It’s a lot like how DC has a character called Captain Marvel, but they have to call his book Shazam! because Marvel has a trademark on the name Captain Marvel.

What does this mean for DC’s rights to use the character?

They do not change at the moment. Since they own an equal share, they can do what they want, so long as they cut in the Siegels for one half of the profits. Same with the Siegels, who’d have to pay DC one-half of any profits they got from licensing the character to another company.

So, does it make much sense for the Siegels to license the character to another company?

At the moment, no, not really. Since DC has all the trademarks AND an equal share of the copyright, it is better for the Siegels to just take their cut of any Superman proceeds, as well as work out a huge monetary settlement from DC Comics to sell their rights to DC.

How much money does DC owe them for Superman’s profits since 1999?

A jury will have to decide that.

Do they get a cut of DC’s international profits, too?

No, this is only for the US rights of Superman. DC fully maintains all international rights.

Okay, so what’s this about 2013?

In 1998, Congress extended copyrights AGAIN. This time, for any copyright formed before 1978, Congress just added a flat 20 years. So Superman will now stay in copyright for 95 years, or until 2033. However, this time, that extra 20 years is available not only to authors and their heirs, but also to the ESTATES of authors. So Joe Shuster’s estate (executed by his nephew) will certainly be exercising their right of termination, which will be in 2013.

At that point, for the last 20 years of the Superman copyright – the Superman copyright will be owned FULLY by Siegel and Shuster.

What does that mean for DC?

That’s the big one for them. Then they would likely have NO rights to do Superman comics, movies, etc. except on a license from Siegel or Shuster. They would still own the trademarks, though, so DC would certainly have a lot of negotiating strength, so a deal would be likely (if it is not already finished BEFORE then), but it is not a good place for DC to be.

What is the current status of the case?

DC is, of course, appealing. And since the monetary issues are to be settled in trial (which is not scheduled to begin in the very near future), nothing much changes for now. Most likely, we just see a new round of settlement negotiations, with an eye by DC of getting this all taken care of via a large check being handed to the Siegels (do note that DC has been very willing to settle this thing – the Siegels just differ with their terms).

EXTRA FAQ FOR JUST CONFUSING STUFF YOU REALLY DO NOT NEED TO KNOW, SO READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

What exact rights might DC hope for past-Action Comics #1?

I would presume DC might try to make an argument that their work on Superman past Action Comics #1 was different enough that it could stand on its own as independent work (particularly the post-Byrne reboot), and not subject to the Siegel’s copyright. The Siegels, of course, will argue it is all just derivative of Action Comics #1. This would also be determined by a jury, and since it would be by a jury (and this case likely will never see a jury), it really is not a big deal.

That is strictly a “Do we have to pay them for this stuff?” question, by the way, not a “Hey, they don’t own Superman! We changed him enough!” thing.

So wait, if the Siegels could terminate after 56 years, why did they terminate in 1999, which is 61 years after Action Comics #1?

Part of the Act gave people a five-year period in which to terminate, provided they gave notice two years in advance. So the Siegels could have terminated anywhere between 1994 and 1999. They waited as long as they did because they were negotiating a settlement with DC. When that didn’t work by the deadline, they terminated.

What’s this about DC owning the copyright on the ad for Action Comics #1?

As I just mentioned, you have a five-year period to terminate, and if you take longer than five years, you cannot terminate the copyright. There were ads for Action Comics featuring Superman that came out before Action Comics #1. Since they fell BEFORE Action Comics #1’s release, they fell outside of the five-year period, and the Siegels could not terminate them. So yes, DC owns the copyright for the Action Comics #1 ad, which was a small black and white reproduction of the cover of Action Comics #1. So DC owns the right to the character who appears in that ad – however, since it is devoid of the context of the story, all they own is a super-strong man in a black and white outfit (the S is not even recognizable, so they wouldn’t get that, even) – the name Superman isn’t even used, so they don’t get that. So basically, they get nothing. It’s, like, 10 pages of the ruling, and it amounts to essentially nothing.

If you have any further questions you’d like to see included here, let me know!

Here are some questions!

My buddy Kurt asked:
What about all the other Superman stories Siegel and Shuster wrote before Action Comics #1? Are those considered work-for-hire?

As Slam rightfully points out, since nothing really notable came about in those stories, I don’t think either side is much concerned about the copyright on those stories. Now if Luthor had made his first appearance then, perhaps they’d think differently.

Zach Adams asks:
Since trademark protection expires when it is not used, could the Siegels and Shuster’s estate just not do anything until 2018 or so, and just cause DC’s trademark to expire?

In theory, perhaps, but DC could save the copyright by just making a new book using the name. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, perhaps?

But yeah, as you mention, it makes more financial sense for the Siegels and Shusters to keep the trademark alive, so DC will pay more.

Lothor asks:
Why/how does DC soley own international copyright? Is that settled, or still up for negotiation/litigation? All this termination stuff is strictly US law. International law is different, and DC is pretty set with it.

(More a hypothetical: there are more uses of the character than just in books, so long-term it’d show bad faith) Since DC owns international copyright, could they publish the books Superman appears in only in Canada, buy them from themselves (directly or via subsidiaries), then import them for resale? After all, when I buy or sell back-issues of Spawn (for example; I don’t really do that), Todd MacFarlane doesn’t get any of that money. They could publish Superman comics only in Canada, sure, but they would not be able to import them to America for resale.

71 Comments

Rohan Williams

March 30, 2008 at 5:40 am

Thanks so much, Brian. This was very interesting.

Man, this is sad really. I just don’t get the whole concept where Siegel’s and Shuster’s heirs and estate holders can really have anything to do with Superman. Yes, Siegel and Shuster were treated unfairly by DC originally to a degree, but Superman has given so much joy to people world-wide in a way that no other fictional character has. Can’t they just leave Superman to DC and get on with their lives? Their heirs had nothing to do with his creation of course, may not even be creative at all, perhaps don’t even read the comics he appears in. I guess it just comes down to greed, and that really is such a heartbreak. Yes, I guess I’m being naive, but if I created a successful pop culture character, I wouldn’t let my kids touch him at all. I would like my kids to work for their money, not just live off what I’ve created. Otherwise what would they learn?

I mean, DC gave Superman his success and fame. They’ve treated the character well over the last few decades. Can’t they just be left alone to keep doing what they’re doing? Or will the heirs keep doing this until the end of time? And Siegel’s and Shuster’s descendants will have the same rights in 200 years time, tying DC’s hands yet again?

The greatest travesty would be if this sets a precedent. What happens when George Lucas dies? Will his kids have the final say on everything Star Wars related? Or Harry Potter? I mean if laws keep changing, isn’t every created character up for grabs in theory?

Anyway, I’m ranting and perhaps I’m just not ‘getting’ it. I just hope Superman can continue doing what he’s always done – to entertain and inspire.

Brian,

Superb job distilling a complicated story into easy-to-grasp chunks. This is such a heated issue for so many, it’s a joy to read a post on it that has no hostility!

Best,
Marc
Author, “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman” (August 2008)

Kris, this does not set a precedent for the examples you have given – that was set a long time ago! The Tolkien heirs have control over his works. The Invisible Man rights are owned by the estate of H. G. Wells. Lucas’s heirs will have control of Star Wars, and Rowling’s heirs will have control of Harry Potter. It’s the way the world has worked for a long, long time.

If the laws keep changing, then technically yes, in theory every character is up for grabs; however, it would require quite a huge change and is EXTREMELY unlikely (Keep in mind that, in theory, it may one day be legal to eat babies for breakfast but not at teatime – because laws keep changing and who knows?). The law here only applies to Superman because Siegel and Shuster created him and brought the story to DC prior to 1976.

And no, they couldn’t do it forever. One – they only need to do it once. Two – when the copyright period is up, it falls into the public domain, meaning it then belongs to everyone – like the works of Shakespeare.

The whole thing is silly. Personally, Superman should have gone public domain in 1994. The purpose of copywrite was to promote new original works by authors and creators. How is letting Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s children and estates block projects to milk money until 2033 promoting new works? The creators are long dead. No matter how much money they are given, they will be making no new Superman stories.

(Actually, I think I’m wrong about the Invisible Man – it should be in the public domain, but there’s definitely something murky with the rights issues due to the 1933 movie. So probably ignore that sentence)

One thing still confuses me. Siegel and Shuster’s original nespaper strip samples, created before the DC deal, were used in several issues of Action so why is only the material from #1 covered?

(And I was right about the Invisible Man the first time – because it was published in the United Kingdom, the copyright term is life of the author plus 70 years. Sorry for the repeated comments which ended up saying very little past the first)

[…] Lá no blog do CBR, Brian Cronin esmiuça o status do Copyright do Super-Homem depois da decisão da justiça americana que os herdeiros de Jerry Siegel têm o copyright de Action Comics #1. Abaixo, algumas das perguntas mais importantes: So, who owns the copyright of Superman?As of this moment, as per the ruling by Judge Stephen Larson on March 26, 2008, Superman’s copyright is owned in two equal parts by DC Comics/Time Warner and the heirs of Superman co-creator, Jerry Siegel.So what do the Siegels own, exactly?The Siegels own half of the copyright to everything introduced in the first issue of Action Comics #1, which, really, is the vast majority of everything folks associate with Superman. The name Superman, the secret identity of Clark Kent, the fact that he is an alien who came to Earth from Krypton as a baby, his super strength, invulnerability and ability to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, the red, yellow and blue costume with a red “S” on his chest and a red cape on his back, and his fellow reporter, Lois Lane. The Siegels co-own all of that, which is basically everything. […]

I wrote a book on Siegel and Shuster called “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman,” due out later this year. It’s aimed at young people so it doesn’t get into great detail about the litigation, and that’s a good thing. I’m impressed with how well so many seem to grasp the legal complexity of this case. At http://noblemania.blogspot.com, I blogged four lists: what DC did right/wrong and what S&S did right/wrong. But I feel I’m missing or not accurately expressing certain points so I welcome anyone to help me improve those lists?

Kris, you are naive, if you were in there position, you’d be doing it too.

This is long and overdo. This is truly “truth, justice and the American way.”

As for the “fans”… under what legal doctrine to fans get co-ownership of something they read? I’m afraid the “I want it” argument doesn’t have any legal force.

Wonderful! You distilled a lot of confusion into some simple points. Well done!

Count me as someone who does not think this is a bad thing. So, the Siegel heirs own half of a character who should have lapsed into the Public Domain over a decade ago, but didn’t because of lobbying by companies like Time-Warner. Why is this a bad thing?

Would anyone have minded if Marvel needed the approval of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s prior to bumping off Captain America? How about Dan DiDio needing the approval of Steve Ditko and Keith Giffen to include Ted Kord and Maxwell Lord in ‘Countdown to Infinite Crisis’? Bottom line is that the Corporations that own a lot of these characters have not been the best stewards of many of these properties. Their huge character portfolios make them disposable in a way that they are not to the creators and their heirs.

I mean, would you rather see the type of fidelity to the source material in “The Lord of the Rings”, or “Fantastic Four”? Which was a better fourth entry into its film series: ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, or ‘Batman and Robin’? If the WB-DC connection is so essential to cranking out films and TV series, then where are the adaptations of Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern? Is there any chance the estate of William Moulton-Marston would have fired Joss Whedon?

I like both ‘Smallville’ and ‘Superman Returns’, but that is hardly reflective of what has been happening in the comics. My guess is that Siegel heirs will be happy to just receive fat checks from those existing adaptations. Going forward, I trust their judgment more than DiDio until proven otherwise.

Re: Trademark

While it’s true that as of 2013 DC will hold the trademarks, is there any reason that the Siegel and Shuster estates couldn’t simply hold out on DC until those trademarks expire from lack of use in 2018 or 2020 or whenever? I’m not saying they SHOULD, as it’d probably be more profitable to them to negotiate and keep Superman on the stands. I’m just curious as to whether it’s an option.

Asked by Cei-U.

“One thing still confuses me. Siegel and Shuster’s original nespaper strip samples, created before the DC deal, were used in several issues of Action so why is only the material from #1 covered? ”

Kurt, I’m going to venture a guess that the issue wasn’t raised as it would have required a lot more research to set the timeline for the creation of those stories. It’s been a little while since I’ve read Superman Chronicles and the early Archives, but I don’t recall any really major developments coming out of the early “strip” stories. For ease of litigation, the main baby was the story in Action #1. It established Superman, his powers, Lois and the baseline origin. It was also very well established that that story was not created as work-for-hire. Adding in the other “strip” stories would have muddied the water with not a lot to gain.

[…] – If that’s not enough, CBR has another excellent FAQ about this too. […]

Ryan H:

The purpose of copyright is not to encourage artists to create new works, it’s to prevent artists from having their work ripped off. And, indirectly this may encourage them to make new stuff, sure…but so would not having it, because making new works would then be the only way for artists to put food on the table day after day.

In fact, anybody creating stuff on a work-for-hire basis has historically been in precisely that latter situation, if you think about it.

So forget the “economic incentive value” of copyright — copyright’s not incentive for artists, it’s their protection.

Nice breakdown, Brian! Sorry for the digression.

Stephane Savoie

March 30, 2008 at 3:29 pm

I do have a question… Since the Seigels and Shusters will completely own the Action #1 Superman in 2013, they could theoretically farm him out.
Let’s say they license him to Marvel, who publish “Super Comics”, with an image of Superman (but no name) on the cover.
Clearly, they could also make changes to the character. If they wanted to give him Mind Control, that’s up to them.
But what about flight? Flight was introduced to the mythos under DC ownership. Could DC legitimately make a case that such a generic power infringes their trademark regarding the character? (Other things like Kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen are more obvious). Adding to the character in generically similar ways seems muddled though.

Thanks so much for this. Very informative, and clarifies a lot.

Kris, you said: “Their heirs had nothing to do with his creation of course, may not even be creative at all, perhaps don’t even read the comics he appears in… if I created a successful pop culture character, I wouldn’t let my kids touch him at all. I would like my kids to work for their money, not just live off what I’ve created.”

so what you’re basically saying is, you’re against the whole concept of inherited wealth? Well, okay, but you’ll have a hard time finding many who agree with you. It seems pretty fair to me that Siegel and Shuster’s estates be entitled to the same share in the profits that they would have been entitled to had Siegel and Shuster themselves had recieved their due in the first place.

@plok
No offense,but you’re so wrong it’s not funny.Copyright is a monopoly granted by society to a creator for a LIMITED time in order to maintain incentive for the production of original works.Note that it is not for the benefit of the creator,but for society.

It is inherently evil,as all monopolies are.It’s just that the other method for guaranteeing the production of original works are worse(I’m looking at you,patronage).
This subject has been explained by people much better than I am at this sort of thing.

http://www.baen.com/library/defaultTitles.htm

Click on Prime Palaver by Eric Flint,and read Prime Palaver #4: Lord Macaulay made the definitive speech on copyright.

Or just look up the wikipedia entry on the history of copyright.It’s not definitive,but it’s a place to start.

…and the loonies have arrived.

Sounds pretty good to me. Glad that the Siegel heirs will be getting some more of their due. I think the control of charcters being with PEOPLE rather than corporations is generally a good thing.

I should point out that, in general, DC has taken MUCH better care of Siegel & Shuster than Marvel did with Jack Kirby.

Obinna:

With all respect, I don’t find Macauley’s bedtime stories about remuneration and incentive nearly as convincing as you do…but even if I did, you’d still be missing my point. Because ownership isn’t compensation for having done a public service, for heaven’s sake! Why, even Macauley says he wouldn’t have Parliament strip a living author of his copyright in the name of Public Good!

Hmph. Plenty of people have produced, and still do produce, plenty of original works without benefit of copyright’s “incentive”. You don’t even need to go to Wikipedia to look that one up.

This is a myth.

And, I’ll point out once again, a digression: because I wasn’t talking about the Siegels’ court victory here — I wasn’t talking about extensions of copyright — I was talking about philosophical principle. And in regard to philosophical principle I still think you and Ryan have got it backwards. Macauley says he won’t make odious compromises between right and expediency. Well, neither will I: if the ownership of what you make with your own two hands is only something granted to you by society to benefit itself, then there might as well be no society at all.

Not that I believe, like Sonny Bono, that copyright should be eternal. I don’t. In fact I believe that the LIMITATION of copyright is the thing society creates in its own interest, and for the public benefit…and in that belief, I think Macauley and I at last agree. Buzzwords like “remuneration” and “incentive” notwithstanding.

Questions:
– Why/how does DC soley own international copyright? Is that settled, or still up for negotiation/litigation?
– (More a hypothetical: there are more uses of the character than just in books, so long-term it’d show bad faith) Since DC owns international copyright, could they publish the books Superman appears in only in Canada, buy them from themselves (directly or via subsidiaries), then import them for resale? After all, when I buy or sell back-issues of Spawn (for example; I don’t really do that), Todd MacFarlane doesn’t get any of that money.

My biggest worry here is that some on-DC Superman books will come out and I won’t be able to buy them because I’m outside the USA

Their heirs had nothing to do with his creation of course, may not even be creative at all, perhaps don’t even read the comics he appears in… if I created a successful pop culture character, I wouldn’t let my kids touch him at all. I would like my kids to work for their money, not just live off what I’ve created.

Yeah, when I die I’d much rather have all my money going to a multimillion dollar corporation that ripped me off in the past than to my own kids!

Freakin’ baffling remark.

…But revealing.

Also, I’d argue that as far as fictional characters bringing joy goes, Santa Claus has Superman beat hands down. One man’s opinion.

DanCJ: that possibility seems very remote, to me.

@Plok
You should;Macaulay was apparently quite an important figure in establishing the foundations of modern copyright law.

The point I was trying to make was concerning the intent of copyright which is for society’s benefit,not for that of the creator.Callous,maybe,but true.The law does not recognise a NATURAL right to copyright,unlike say to a house you bought.And while many people do not require “incentive” to produce original work,it doesn’t hurt either.

Consider:there have always been songwriters and musicians,playwrights and other artistes.But there has never been anything compelling another musician to compensate you for performing music you wrote.

The thinking behind copyright law was probably something like this:Original work(art,music,books etc) are to society’s benefit.Most creators get better with practice.They also need to be able to support themselves in order to work.Funding alternatives:Patronage or copyright.Copyright was(is) considered a better alternative to patronage for reasons I won’t go into here.

I’m not an IP expert,and I doubt I’m going to convince you.Guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

And I apologize,Mr Cronin,for digressing.

I appreciate the great info in this post, Brian!

Obinna – seems as if you’re saying that an individual earning money off of their own creation is a form of socialism. How novel!

“the fact that he is an alien who came to Earth from Krypton as a baby”

Actually, I’m fairly positive that Krypton wasn’t named in Action Comics #1. It was just an unnamed planet dying of old age. A quick search on Wikipedia seems to indicate it wasn’t until Superman #1 that it was named. So that’s one more element that the Siegels don’t have any claim over.

Anyways, at this point I suspect that the Siegels will for the most part just end up taking a big fat check and not really do anything to the character. Even by 2013 when the Shuster estate (potentially) gains the other half of the character I don’t see them selling the character off to Marvel or whatever. Without trademarks, Luthor, Krypton, Perry, Jimmy, Kryptonite, flying, etc…. it’s a hard sale. Character-wise you’d be better of just creating an entirely new character, especially since you can’t put any of the trademarks on covers or advertising.

Those predicting doom or gloom for Superman’s future at DC I think are overreacting. It’s not like Time Warner is a struggling little buisness that can’t afford to pay the licensing fees from the heirs or estate holders of Siegel and Shuster. I don’t suspect that Superman’s seat in the JLA is going to be empty any time soon.

[…] Quoting Journalista: Last Wednesday, U.S. district judge Stephen G. Larson issued a summary judgment in the lawsuit between DC Comics/Warner Brothers Entertainment and the estate of Superman co-creator Jerome “Jerry” Siegel, giving half of the copyright to the original Superman story published in the 1938 Action Comics #1 back to the Siegel estate and backdating said ownership to 1999, when the Siegels filed notice of termination. Jeff Trexler broke the news on Friday afternoon and posted a copy of Larson’s full 72-page ruling to his website; on Saturday, the New York Times and the Bloomberg wire service had both issued news stories covering the landmark ruling. Both Jeff Trexler and Brian Cronin have crafted FAQs answering basic questions, and Andy Khoury discusses the judgment with intellectual-property lawyer Brendan McFeely. The best reading on the subject is really Judge Larson’s summary judgment itself, however: It’s an entertaining and informative document that contains a full history of the creation of Superman, a summary of how the case has progressed to date and of course includes Larson’s erudite resolution of several important issues involved in the case. Oh yeah, and in the appendix, a color reproduction of the original Superman story itself. Hey kids! Comics! […]

Obinna:

What you’re engaging in there, with your flow-chart model of copyright’s grant, is called “conjectural history” — a sort of reverse-engineering of the past, to support (ironically) the “naturalness” of a present viewpoint. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Hobbes did it, Rousseau did it, even H.G. Wells did it. I sometimes do it. It’s fun.

But it isn’t factual.

Consider that when you say copyright is exclusively for Society’s benefit, and not at all for the benefit of artists, you’re as much as saying that if Society ever decides to do things differently, artists can go jump. But this isn’t true: an act of Parliament (or Congress) that abolished copyright in favour of some other system of assigning ownership of works (and we all know what that “other system” would be, don’t we?) would be open to a court challenge, in which more than just “Society’s benefit” would be considered. In fact Society’s benefit might not even be considered, in such an eventuality. And boy, could I digress about this…but just note Macauley’s words: he says he doesn’t want to get into a pissing match about whether right should trump expediency or vice versa, he says he doesn’t want to get into a philosophical discussion at all. But when he says this he is, in the parlance of our times, hanging a lantern on it, because what his point really is, is that sometimes expediency is…well, expedient, yes, but it need be no more than expedient. So simmer down, Members opposite, we’re not talking about getting into discussions of Natural Law here, we can just skip through that whole discussion, and proceed with da bizness.

Now, he was lucky he didn’t try this on in France a hundred years earlier: Voltaire would’ve massacred him.

But don’t you try it now, Obinna! For heaven’s sake, we don’t need 150-year-old political excuses for copyright trotted out, to argue that their extensions should be limited! In case you haven’t noticed, that doesn’t work anymore, anyway. So why not jettison the “incentive” bafflegab? What’s so wrong with simply saying things are as they appear to be, and that the maker owns the made? Because that’s where we are now in any case: arguing (even before the U.S. Supreme Court!) that copyright’s just for Society’s benefit, so Society can cut it off whenever it figures it’d be “beneficial” to do so…that’s been shown to be a non-starter. What’s needed now is proof that the Public Good is served by limiting terms…that exact proof that Macauley, no doubt following canny political instincts, declined to show back in 1840 or whenever it was. That whole “shilling instead of a guinea” thing doesn’t turn any heads these days; something more serious is needed.

Whew! A digression for sure; but if you want to leave it at this now, and agree to disagree, I’m okay with that.

>Santa Claus has Superman beat hands down

Except Santa is real, obviously!
…..Isn’t he?
:(

Well, Santa claus is the bastardization of the christian Saint nicholas, but get the rest of that from the nice folks at coca-cola who wanted to include all those nice kids who weren’t catholics: they had money to blow, too…

The process of creativity is pretty specific stuff and in that, fortunes should be equally divided based on who contributed what, but that only works in a fair world sans lawyers and corporate greed. clearly, without Superman, the rest of the cast of characters wouldn’t be here, nor would most of the DC Universe and, in fact, most of Marvel. An open, floating sort of grant based on revenue and percentages of input that got it there is necessary to be fair, if anybody really wants fairness in the comics industry. Just as any page of a comic has a set value on it for who executes what, from pencils to digital colors which now are a big, big part of how great (or crappy) a book looks, there’s a piece for everybody. But heirs? Hmm, I dunno, really. I mean, speaking as a dad, if I have an income based on my work, does my adult offspring need to get it if they haven’t done anything to earn it? I’d really let it all end when the kids reach adulthood and the spouses die. Otherwise, we’ll have a continuous cycle of “My father invented Superman” and you’ll look at their gold watches and ask, “Yeah, so what did YOU do that was worth jack?”

I’m just wondering who the dumbass was who let a couple of fruity filmmakers put nipples on Batman’s costume or let Bryan Singer anywhere near a young man in tights. DC’s overall history of screwing up their own properties is their own version of kryptonite. Oops, sorry, Warner legal, I meant Kryptonite®

[…] Si después de todo esto aún te quedan dudas sobre el caso, no dejes de checar el FAQ sobre Derecho de Copia de Superman que Comics Should Be Good! publicó recientemente al respecto. […]

“But heirs? Hmm, I dunno, really. I mean, speaking as a dad, if I have an income based on my work, does my adult offspring need to get it if they haven’t done anything to earn it? I’d really let it all end when the kids reach adulthood and the spouses die. ”

Except that in this case, the actual creators never got their proper due.

If you created something that was hugely successful, and reaped the rewards from that, maybe you wouldn’t want your kids to retain the rights to it… but would you also stop them inheriting the house you bought with the proceeds?

Siegel and Shuster never got that choice.

Thank you! That really cleared up a lot of questions for me!! :)

Well done! This is an excellent summary that avoids legal jargon… a good distillation of the intellectual property issues. I agree with the commenters who think the Siegels will just take a big check in the end. The Superman trademarks are more important than the copyrights here.

To Cei-U and Slam Bradley:

I guess DC owns the material after Action Comics 1 despite that they were created before AC1 because they were published by DC when when Siegel and Shuster were already DC employees.

Basically, I think if Siegel and Shuster were contracted employees of DC, and THEN they used their Action Comics #1 story, despite the fact that they made the material before they were employees of DC, it would have still counted as a work for hire.

Nightstar is a character owned by DC Comics, even though Alex Ross created her when he was a kid.

MarkFBraun, “I’m just wondering who the dumbass was who let a couple of fruity filmmakers put nipples on Batman’s costume or let Bryan Singer anywhere near a young man in tights.”

This is an interesting discussion regarding copyright law and specifically this ruling. Please keep your asinine, homophobic comments to your self.

Kris Bather “Yes, I guess I’m being naive”

Yes, Kris. You are being very naive.

You sound like a plant for DC/Time Warner

I would add more, but others before me have already desconstructed your comments for me.

Thanks a lot Brian, finally I could understand this mess. DC is gonna need some good lawyers in the near future. Peace.

Copyright is stated in the US Consstitution.

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

The wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Clause

The longer extensions were pushed by companies such as Disney when they realized their characters created in the early 20th century were still making money. The crumbs to the creators was the way for the law to pass. The expectation was that few authors would be alive/willilng to fight the companies.

A less polite way of speaking might have had it this way:

“To prevent the Beggaring of our Writers and Inventors by various unchecked Rapacious Interests known to be in the Country, by guaranteeing them the Right to say “Sir, If The Cheque Does Not Arrive On Monday, You Will Be Hearing From My Lawyer On Tuesday.”

creators have a natural right in this country to benefit from their creations, obviously if you’re just a cosumer and don’t actually create anything, you might not sympathize with that notion. Maybe dc should have spent time and money developing other ip in the last 70 years or so.

[…] never to late to claim a copyright Big week for copyright news.  First there was the news that the copyright associated with Action Comics #1 had been awarded to the family of Jerry Siegel, […]

[…] retain copyright back to 1999 has riled up many fans. (For analysis of this case check out these links and the […]

This is all so very sad.

In my own humble opinion, DC should continue to publish Superman forever, but the Siegels should keep getting royalties.

The characters and the fans will be the ones to suffer if all of this bickering continues.

I’d really hate to see Superman published by Marvel or Image or whoever, unless the entire DCU isn’t there either.

The Siegels deserve something too.

I can’t belive that fans would want to know that the Siegel name is being discredited or disrespected in any way.

Thank you Siegel and Shuster for the greatest fictional character in history.

(Batman’s my favourite, but I have to have SOME perspective.)

Come on, Shaun, why is it sad? DC and the Siegels are not bickering, only we fans are bickering…and over nothing, I might add. Both DC and the Siegels have an interest in Superman’s continued publication…all that’s going to happen now is that the Siegels will start receiving compensation for DC’s use of the character. Hey, in a handful of years it all becomes public domain anyway, like…I don’t know, like Sherlock Holmes, or something. And Sherlock Holmes is doing fine, isn’t he?

Shaun. There is nothing sad about a creator or their heirs finally getting some of what is rightfully theirs. It is something to celebrate……..And Plok is right, The Siegel’s will just let DC continue to publish and collent money.

Thanks to plok and TJR for their comments.

All in all, I want Superman to be treated as he should be: The single greatest symbol of good in all of fiction (I’m going out on a limb here, since I’m unaware of an actual survey).

Whether an individual likes him or not, Superman is so much bigger than all of us. He’s not just ink and 4-colors on a page, without him the superhero genre, or comics for that matter, may not be around today to inspire us all.

And without comics as a medium (I happen to be a comics writer/artist from Trinidad), kids might just a tad less literate than they already are (I know I might be generalizing, all apologies, but I’m admittedly biased when it comes to such matters).

Thanks again for this forum and to all its contributors.

Has the “Superboy” ownership rights been settled? I only know that it has been in the courts and because of the current litigation, things like the Superboy character, in the Legion animated series, having to be called Superman and DC Comics being unable to publish “Superboy Archives”, etc.

Of course, I am assuming that the “Superboy” matter is a separate issue from the “Superman” ruling.

Is it?

It is.

I did think it was a farce that a young Superman could possibly belong to anyone other than DC, but if the Seigels now own half of the original Superman then that certainly changes things

[…] At Comics Should Be Good, Brian Cronin assembles a Superman copyright FAQ that serves as a good companion to […]

yes let’s just hope they treat him well…as public domain everyone could write a good superman novel or even a terrible one. sigh. however let’s just hope the siegels are not coming for payback, freezing the character or split him apart by selling him to marvel or other comic book publishers…it would be terrible to see supi jumping from building to building…like most people said here propably they continue to publish and paying royalities, intresting will be the outcome of the new superman movie…if it flops on the big screen and the expenses are too high(i heard 50 percent income share wtf!) dc could actually REALLY kill superman off…huge sales for the last superman comic book and then they could go on with a new superhero maybe the son of kal L…the loss of the red is S is a big one…the rest is arguable(modernizing the custome is not bad anyway).

This comment thread has been really interesting… and shows a lot of ignorace and misinformation… as well as some intellect and fact.

What I want to add is this….

As soon as an author puts pen to paper and creates a character and a story, they OWN THE COPYRIGHT. A copyright does NOT have to be REGISTERED in order to be protected. Registering it just makes it a little easier to PROVE it.

And thank goodness for copyright protection. If any Joe Schmoe could steal my work, then WHY one earth should I create anything?

And for the knucklehead who argues that the heirs should WORK for it… well that’s fine for you, but shouldn’t the creator be the one to decide that? If my father built a successful vineyard, shouldn’t HE get to decide if he leaves it to me or sells it to someone else, or gives it to the general population? Just because people like his wine, grapes, or whatever doesn’t give them the right to come and raid the vineyard and steal his grapes.

Great costume period . I wonder who owns it.

[…] los curiosos: la noticia en inglés (un portal de cómics y en un periódico) y en español (hablando sobre la sentencia y lo que aparecía en algún […]

i would like to write a book on superman, would i have to contact whoever owns the copywrite and how? (would i have to pay money???)

Does anyone know if the spinning rings used on Krypton to hold the three criminals prior to sending them into the phantom zone are copyrighted or trademarked? These rings have been used exclusivly in all Superman movies & SmallVille series.

[…] Jerry Siegel’s heirs are equally empowered. It’s been determined that DC has only 50 percent control of the Superman copyright and DC is likely to lose it all in the next few […]

[…] 2013, thanks to another copyright extension, Superman will fall under the total control of the Shuster and Siegel estates. Can’t wait to […]

Denise Armstrong

January 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I have a 1938 copywrite superman comic book. Its say it was copywrite in 1975 and also say copywrite renewed in1965. I just wanted to no how much its worth. Denise Armstrong cell #215-501-9562

Len Franchebois

August 31, 2013 at 5:18 am

How does all of this effect writing? IE: fiction not solicited by Shuster/Seigel or DC, which uses the various character, inclduing Superman himself? Does there need to be any form of legal release?

[…] Taylor Swift and Super Junior both have songs called “Superman.” Isn’t Superman DC’s character, whose name is owned by DC? Technically the stylization of the word Mr.Mr. is different […]

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