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DC Buyout Efforts Unravelling

Article reprinted from

September 16, 1999:  It has been two weeks since Matt Brady broke the startling news on that Jerry Siegel's wife and daughter had succeeded in regaining ownership to his portion of the copyright to SUPERMAN.  But since the principles in the case, the Siegels and their lawyer, DC Comics and TIME WARNER have for the most part refrained from anything more than general public statements, little is known about the status of any possible settlement.

What is certain is this: Siegel's lawyer, Arthur Levine has stated, and documents published on the web confirmed, that Jerry Siegel's heirs have succeeded in regaining his half of the copyright to SUPERMAN.  What is also known is that TIME WARNER is now publicly stating that it views this development differently than most observers.  TIME WARNER public relations spokesperson, Barbara Brogliatti told the SPLASH on Wednesday that, "We have had a long and amicable relationship with the Siegels, and look forward to working with them in the future.  We do have differences of opinion concerning interpretation of the copyright law and how it applies to any limited rights the family might have."

The SPLASH has pieced together a scenario of what has apparently been going on behind the scenes.  It is by no means complete at this early date, as secrecy has been paramount to the players, and details are of course sketchy.  But sources close to the situation have confirmed the following points:

Between the time when the papers were filed by the Siegels and the news broke publicly, DC Publisher Paul Levitz has been trying to broker a deal with TIME WARNER to buy out the Siegels.  Levitz is greatly trusted by the Siegels for his personal handling of their particular situation since the 1970's.  Levitz had immediate problems selling the deal, which is said to be in the $150 million range, to his own board of directors. When he approached his bosses at TIME WARNER with it they were even less amused.

TIME WARNER is looking at this, not just in terms of SUPERMAN, but as setting a precedent for the many creators who stand to regain lucrative franchise properties, not just in comics but in music, film and all other forms of entertainment, from them down the road.  TIME WARNER perceives a number of holes in the Siegel's case.  Sources tell the SPLASH that TIME WARNER will maintain that the paperwork may not have been filed within the two year window; that any copyrights regained by the Siegels cover only the first thirteen pages of ACTION COMICS #1 and the characters of Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Superman.  In addition, the corporation will maintain that all other work done by Siegel was under a work for hire agreement.  TIME WARNER will also maintain that the rights regained by the Siegel's only constitute U.S. Rights, and that DC Comics retains all other worldwide rights under the copyright convention.  TIME WARNER, the world's largest media conglomerate, is of course well prepared to fight the Siegels in the courts as well as in the court of public opinion.

Levitz was reportedly furious when the story broke on the Internet on August 31, apparently unaware that copyright lawyer Michael Lovitz had made the announcement two weeks earlier during a legal workship at the San Diego Comic-Con International.  Word immediately went out to everyone at DC that leaks concerning the case were unacceptable.  A deal still seemed possible during the first two weeks in September, but now the parties appear ready to take their cases to the public, a good indication that private negotiations have not worked out.

The whole affair has no doubt complicated Levitz's and DC's position as part of Warner Bros., by putting them on the radar as a major negative during a critical management transition.  As publisher of DC Comics, Paul Levitz has to make the tough decisions, and has often been painted as the villian in the comics press.  But sources close to this situation describe him as personally concerned and really trying to do the right thing for the Siegels, but caught in a corporate vice that is squeezing him from both ends.  It is nothing short of ironic that the man who occupies the desk of Donenfeld and Liebowitz may find the defining moment of his career trying to get a fair shake for the heirs of Jerry Siegel from his corporate bosses! Developing.


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