THE BATTLE FOR SUPERMAN HEATS UP - SUPERBOY RIGHTS CLAIMED, SHUSTER FOUND
Article reprinted from Newsarama:
August 4, 2004:The Battle for Superman Rages On...
Quiet for the past few years, the focus in the Superman copyright case has shifted from Superman to Superboy, and the battle for the right to Superman is joined by a Shuster.
With the bubbling finally coming to a boil, there have been several recent developments in the matter regarding the rights to Superman, and his creators (represented by their heirs and in one case, widow). Long-time Newsarama readers will recall that in 1998, the widow and daughter of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel filed paperwork terminating the transfer of copyright for Superman that the creators made to DC Comics. Reportedly, the Siegels were in negotiation with DC in regards to the rights, and those negotiations were never settled, and the rights to Superman are still in dispute.
Now, add the boy. The Superboy, that is. According to various sources, Joanne Siegel and Laura Siegel Larson filed paperwork to terminate the transfer of copyright for Superboy. The paperwork was filed in November of 2002. Given the mandatory two years’ notice, the termination will be fully effective on November 17, 2004.
The case made for Superboy dates back to the early ‘40s, when Jerry Siegel created and submitted the idea of a Superman spin-off, Superboy to DC Comics. DC did not act to publish or further develop the character until Siegel was drafted into service in World War II, a time during which, Siegel often stated, he in no way could protect his interests in the character(s) he’d created.
While both Siegel and Shuster had come to feel extremely disenfranchised by DC over the course of Superman’s career (neither ever received an accounting o f how much revenue the character brought in for DC throughout the ‘40s), the creation (with no credit given to him) of Superboy was too much for Siegel, who filed suit against DC, and won in 1947, with the judge in the case stating that DC Comics acted illegally (DC claimed that Superboy was in reality, simply Superman, and was therefore the same character created by Siegel, and the creator was owed nothing).
While the court agreed with Siegel and Shuster, the creators sold the rights to the character back to DC for $100,000 (given that the court ruled Siegel to be the creator, the sale was in fact, a transfer of the copyright). The Siegels have moved to terminate that transfer of copyright, which will take effect in November.
As Newsarama has reported on extensively, the termination of the transfer of copyright was added to Copyright Law in order to protect creators, such as Siegel and Shuster, who had originally made disadvantageous deals regarding a property which was then exploited by another party. 56 years after the assignment, creators have a five year window to file for the termination of said transfer. In the case of Superboy, the deal between Siegel and Shuster with DC over Superboy was made in 1948. 1948 + 56 = 2004.
And no, while their latter work does fall under Work For Hire statue, Superman itself does not, as it is well documented that Siegel and Shuster had created the character and brought it to DC, specifically Jack Liebowitz, at whom Siegel focused much of his anger in his later years, naming him specifically several times in his infamous 1975 “curse” press release, in which he outlined how he and Shuster had been mistreated by Liebowitz and DC for years.
So – back to Superboy.
What does this mean for the character (who currently appears in the occasional Superman comic and Teen Titans, as well as is the central character – in a sense – in The WB’s Smallville)? Perhaps not too much, as, technically (and legally), the termination of the transfer of copyright for Superman went into effect on April 16, 1999, and DC still publishes Superman comics, the character co-stars in an animated series, and Warner Brothers is moving ahead with a Superman film. Also, again, techincally, the current Superboy is not Superman as a boy (the character which the court ruled Siegel and Shuster created and owned), but rather a clone made up of Superman and Lex Luthor - a literal and fictional derivative of Superman.
Best case for the Siegels, DC settles, and pays them a fair amount for the rights to both, or agrees to the transfer and then licenses the characters from the survivors. Worst case for DC, the Siegels, unhappy with the slow progress to date over Superman, immediately move to take the matter to court, and get a ruling against DC who, technically, owes them ½ of the revenue generated by Superman since the termination took effect.
But wait – there’s more. When the Siegels filed their paperwork and the story broke, many wondered what about Shuster. While, like Siegel, Superman’s co-creator was dead, many assumed that he’d left no heir who could join with the Siegels. Remember – the Siegels had filed to terminate the transfer of copyright for Jerry Siegel’s portion of the rights, that is ½ of the rights to Superman, leaving DC with half. If there was a Shuster heir, together, the Siegels and Shuster heir could’ve filed to terminate the transfer to all the rights to Superman.
Well, there is. While leaving no children, Joe Shuster did have a sister, and now, her son, Mark Peary (the executor to Shuster’s estate) has filed for the same termination the Siegels have, with Shuster’s taking effect October 26th, 2013. By law, the same window that the Siegels’ used to file their paperwork reopens at 75 years. 1938 + 75 = 2013.
Now, what seemed to be a one-front war for the rights to Superman has been split. If DC does nothing, legally, in 2013, it will no longer hold the copyright for Superman (it will still, however, hold the trademark), as both the Siegels and the Shusters will have terminated their transfers.
If DC were to lose all of their rights in Superman (and all the pieces of the mythology created by Siegel and Shuster, including Metropolis), DC would lose the right to create any new derivative works, although they would keep the rights to existing derivative works.
Legal experts speaking to Newsarama opined that, if the case were to go to trial, the courts would most likely find in the heirs’ favor, given that there were no objections filed against the first notice of the termination of copyright transfer.
From the other side, and speculating a little, continuity could play into DC favor, with the publisher arguing that the “original” Superman, as created by Siegel and Shuster died during Crisis on Infinite Earths, although the heirs could easily counter that the modern version is a derivative of the original. In a burned earth approach, DC could simply, kill Superman – for real – and replace him with a lookalike, perhaps Mr. Majestic, who now resides in the Metropolis of the DCU. Move Majestic-Superman to a new city, but call him Superman (but not Clark Kent) and keep the look (components of DC’s trademark on Superman), and the entire issue is skirted.
While the case had been silent for years, it appears as if it will be gathering steam in the coming weeks and months, as Newsarama has learned that the Siegels and Shusters have signed a new lawyer to the case, one who is known for being very aggressive in the cause of returning property rights to creators, and has many successful court battles under his belt.