Court Awards Superman Co-Creator’s Estate Half The Copyright To The First Superman Story

On March 31, 2008 · 2 Comments

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!

The heirs of Joe Schuster, the other co-creator of Superman, could get ownership of the other half of the copyright by 2013.

More from Journalista:

I wish I could remember where I read it — I’m tempted to credit either Neal Adams or R. Fiore — but one of the most damning things I ever read about the Siegel and Shuster legacy was that it was a refutation of the American Dream. One of the defining principles of the United States, after all, has always been the notion that regardless of the circumstances from which you began in life, if you came up with the right idea or hit the right motherlode you would profit from it accordingly, and pass the wealth along to your family when you died. I don’t know if the “rags to riches” story was invented by an American, but it was almost certainly perfected by one.

The story of how Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster brought Superman to DC Comics, and how DC subsequently treated them, turns this notion on its head. $130 and a job — that’s what Siegel and Shuster got, and they only had the latter so long as they were willing to play ball.[…]

Abhay Khosla refers to all of this as “the original sin of comics,” and he’s quite correct to do so. Arguments that Siegel and Shuster “should have known better,” circulating on comments threads all weekend, should be met with derision by right-thinking people. (”But — but Bob Kane1 knew better,” said the strawman standing conveniently nearby. So? Bob Kane’s father was a successful East Coast lawyer. Siegel and Shuster were average kids from Ohio. They didn’t know copyright law from diamond mining.)

There’s lots more good stuff at Journalista, so go read.

Unfortunately, the precedent set by this case — even if it’s not overturned — is, due to a technicality, not likely to be applicable to comic books other than Superman. And exactly what this will mean in the long run is still up in the air.

But, symbolically, this is a wonderful victory for creators’ rights.


  1. Bob Kane co-created “Batman.” []

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