Comic Book Brain

Superman - The Legal Case

A History Timeline of the Superman Copyright Case

March 2008: Copyright Wars of the Super-Man

Money vs Money vs Ideals



Supremes say "no" to hearing Siegel/Shuster copyright case

Oct 6, 2014: This wasn't unexpected: The Supreme Court declined the petition to take on the long-running "Superman Copyright War" between DC/Warner and the Siegel and Shuster families.

This may be the last dent in the fender for the heirs of Siegel and Shuster who have been trying to reopen the can of worms that is the sale (and resell) of Superman for $130 back in 1938, and the decades of subsequent renegotiations and lawsuits between Jerry Siegel and DC Comics (i.e., Warner Bros).

The Supreme Court refusal follows just days after the sudden move by Disney/Marvel to to legally settle and keep the Kirby Family copyright case from being reviewed by the United State's highest court.


December 13, 2013: Back to court

Siegel and Shuster family lawyer Marc Toberoff doesn't go down without continuing to throw a few punches. His efforts at gaining controlling legal interest in the various Superman copyrights for the Shuster & Siegels heirs hasn't worked out, with Warner Brothers attorneys succeeding as recently as 3 weeks ago in convincing the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to to thumb their noses at Toberoff's efforts.

But now Toberoff has filed a new petition for a rehearing.

Here's the score card on the filing:

APPELLATE CASE NO. 12 - 57245

UNITED STATES COURT OF PPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

DC COMICS, Plaintiff – Appellee,

v.

PACIFIC PICTURES CORPORATION;

IP WORLDWIDE, LLC; IPW, LLC;

MARC TOBEROFF; MARK WARREN PEARY, as personal representative of the Estate of Joseph Shuster; LAURA SIEGEL LARSON, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Joanne Siegel; JEAN ADELE PEAVY, Defendants

Petitioners


March 2008: Copyright Wars of the Super-Man

This is where mainstream media would insert the word "Kryptonite" (or "zap!") as part of a headline

In March 2008, the Jerome ("Jerry") Siegel heirs had a court rule in their favor, handing over half of the domestic United States copyright on Superman (DC Comics retained the international copyright), but there were a lot of individual items about the copyright still left undecided.

Perhaps the biggest question would be how much Warner Communications owed the Siegel Estate dating back to 1999, the year the judge ruled the half-copyright was returned.

The ruling also set forth a reversion of the other half of the United States copyright on Superman to go to the Joe Shuster estate in 2013, the original Superman artist and credited co-creator. With both "halfs" of the USA copyright in the Siegel/Shuster hands, Warner Brothers would be in the position of having to license the character from them in order to continue using the character. Ironically, DC Comics originally paid Siegel and Shuster $130 for Superman (in Action Comics #1), but have since spent unknown millions to legally retain the character.



A History Timeline of the Superman Copyright Case

This is a court case that has been bouncing around in various forms for a long time:



Money vs Money vs Ideals

At the heart of the Superman case is the problem of American copyright law, which keeps fluctuating between the demands of creators and then the demands of the corporations who make money selling the creator's ideas.

In Europe, copyright law tends to be weighted heavily in the favor of those who create the materials, but United States law keeps ping-ponging back and forth over which side it will weight the law in favor of. Each revision of the law extends the copyright periods, such that the last time this happened it was jokingly referred to as the "Walt Disney Protection Act" as it happened in time to prevent Mickey Mouse, among others, from slipping into public domain.

It is easy to have sympathy for the creators who get ripped off, but there is a legitimate side to the corporations who pay out funds for a property and then have to face legal battles to keep the property: it is too easy to just match greed-against-greed and to side with a creator, who is after all a human being and the corporation is a mere legal bit of machinery which functions as a "person."

On the merits, each side uses attorneys to battle each other. But, again, this is where corporations, whatever the moral (rare) or technical value of their argument, typically have a huge advantage and can just "paper over" the other side, often a lone pro bono lawyer trying to get something for a penniless comic book veteran.

Clarity in American copyright law would have helped in this regard, instead the confusion has been a boon to law firms and a long-running headache for corporations who write contracts hoping to absolutely guarantee they have an iron-tight way to keep from having to enumerate fairly the creator who signs it, only to discover there is yet another slender hole in the paperwork that allows an argument to be made against them.

With entertainment corporations giving intense attention to American copyright law, there is sure to be a continuing fight in the U.S Congress with attempts at trying to look fair but to simultaneously protect the interests of wealthy companies who have stables of "intellectual properties" on the line and can spend money on lobbyists and send donations to political parties and individuals to make their presence, and their needs, known.

The old copyright laws allowed a creator to issue a "copyright termination" during a certain 5-year window during the course of the life of the copyright, and this has allowed, and will continue to allow, comic book writers and artists (or their estates) to take another swing at the corporations that now own the rights by asserting the termination of previous deals. (For example see the Kirby Estate vs Disney/Marvel case].

On the other hand, there is a gigantic monster that is going to eventually swoop in: public domain, at which point the legal arguments will become void (public domain will end the copyrights issues, but not the trademarks on characters, that's a different problem).


Jeff Hexler has the best run-down on the current events of this case, which seems to have ended - "not with a bang but a whimper"

From comicsbeat

"As expected, the district court has ruled that the 2001 settlement agreement between DC and the Siegels is binding and did indeed transfer the Superman copyright to DC. But what about Superboy?This is how the lawsuit ends, not with a bang but a whimper."


The late Joanne Siegel letter to Warner Bros protesting legal harassment over Superman copyrights

MARCH 28, 2011

"Do you really think the families of Superman’s creators should be treated this way?"

The Deadline Hollywood movie web site by Nikki Finke has a copy of the letter Joanne Siegel (Superman creator Jerry Siegel's wife and as she is usually identified "The model for Lois Lane") wrote before her death in February protesting Warner Bros continued legal maneuvers despite losing the fight over the Superman copyrights. Continue


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Original Page April 2011 | Updated September 2021