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Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Old 04-01-08, 01:02 PM
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Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Thanks to a 1976 change in copyright law, the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel have been able to reclaim a share of the iconic character.

The ruling by the United States District Court Central Court of California means that since 1999 the Siegel estate has been a co-owner of Superman with DC Comics, and is thereby entitled to a share of the licensing and publication revenues the comic book publisher has realized in the last eight years. The court declined, however, to apportion any profits or to rule on whether Siegel's heirs can share in revenues generated by Warner Bros. or other subsidiaries of Time Warner, which owns DC Comics. DC also continues to own Superman outright in all foreign jurisdictions where it has registered the character under local copyright law.

The court's decision stems from a notice filed by the Siegel estate in 1999, seeking to terminate the original grant of copyright to Detective Comics (DC's corporate predecessor) in 1938. Siegel and his creative partner, Joe Shuster, assigned the rights to the character to Detective when they sold a batch of Superman comics to the comic book publisher. For their work, they received $130.

Under the Copyright Act of 1909, then in force, the holder of a copyright could enforce its claim for twenty-eight years and then renew it for a further twenty-eight. The Act's authors structured copyrights this way with the intent that copyrights revert to their original creators at the end of their initial twenty-eight period regardless of whether those creators had in the meantime granted or sold their rights to another party. In this way, the original creators would be able to extract a better market price for their creation by gaining the right to sell the recaptured copyright after it had demonstrated its true market value during its inaugural period.

A later Supreme Court ruling, however, largely vitiated this structure by upholding the legality of contracts that forced creators to sign over rights to both the inaugural and renewal periods, and a 1974 decision expressly found that Siegel and Shuster had signed away the second renewal period when they had executed their original contract. They had been unsuccessful in an earlier lawsuit when they tried rescinding their contract with Detective Comics on the basis that they had not received fair value for the character.

In 1976, however, Congress extended the duration of copyright renewal periods by nineteen years. At the same time, it sought to mitigate the effects of the Supreme Court's Fred Fisher Music Co. decision by expressly giving creators who met a narrowly drawn set of criteria a chance to terminate their grant of copyright. It was under this legislation that Siegel's heirs filed a notice of termination with DC in 1999.

The judge in the case noted that the 1976 act set a high bar for creators attempting such a termination, but found that Siegel's estate had been mostly successful. Thanks to an error in the Siegels' notice of termination, however, he did rule that DC still has the untrammeled right to "exploit the image of a person with extraordinary strength who wears a black and white leotard and cape," though it would not be allowed to identify this character as "Superman."

The court's ruling does not effect profits or revenues accrued by Time Warner before 1999. Subsequent judicial decisions will settle the apportioning of post-1999 profits and whether the Siegels have a claim on money made off the character by other Time Warner units.

The estate of Joe Shuster has also filed a termination notice, which, if successful, would sever DC's domestic rights to Superman by returning the half of the copyright it currently retains to Shuster's estate.
http://news.toonzone.net/article.php?ID=22560

While I certainly agree the estates deserve a greatly increased share of the profits, I can't believe any court would ever take away Superman from DC.
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Old 04-02-08, 09:07 AM
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I should hope not. I'm not even sure the estates deserve more money. What the hell did they do to contribute to the success of Superman. If the Seigel & Schuster were still alive that's one thing, but why give their great grandchildren money?

DC has invested millions in protecting their interests in the character as well as promoting it world wide. What have the Schusters done?

I'm no lawyer, but they're using a 1976 law to affect something that happened in 1938. Seems peculiar to me. This ruling leaves the door open to the families and estates of a slew of golden age creators I would think. When does Stan get Spider-Man back?

And I like how they throw out that Seigel & Schuster got $130, trying to make it sound like they were completely screwed over. They were only royally screwed over Really though, nobody knew at the time that Superman would take off like it did and $130 was likely the prevailing rate. What no one is saying is that the guys continued to get paid for all of the work they did on the title in the years following the sale. DC didn't throw $130 at them and kick them to the curb. I believe they also got a pension. Probably a modest pension, but it was more than most comic creators get.

I hate defending a huge multi-billion $ corporation, and like I said, if we were talking about paying Joe & Jerry it would be another story. These guys made a poor business decision 70 years ago. I don't know if they ran around kicking themselves for it or crying in their spilled milk, but it doesn't seem that way. The both continued to work for the company for years afterwards, collecting their checks.
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Old 04-02-08, 09:46 AM
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Originally Posted by ytrez
When does Stan get Spider-Man back?
That's a different case; Stan created Spidey while under the employ of Marvel, so it is a work-for-hire.

Originally Posted by ytrez
I'm no lawyer, but they're using a 1976 law to affect something that happened in 1938. Seems peculiar to me.
...although that's the point of the 1976 law. The idea is that when the agreement was made, transferring a copyright meant the recipient would have it for 56 years (28 years initially plus an extension for 28 years). When Congress extended that another 19 years, it gave those who'd transferred a copyright the ability to terminate the transfer so they themselves could benefit from those 19 years. Otherwise, the company being transferred the copyright would be getting 19 additional years of the copyright for 'free'. (There's also the 1998 extension, which piled on another 20 years, but that's not really what's at issue here.)

They had a five year window to terminate the transfer, and they were negotiating with DC that entire time. Things didn't work out the way the estates wanted, so they went through with the termination. They couldn't have terminated any earlier than 1994 or any later than 1999. We're just hearing about this now because it's made its way through the courts.

This doesn't apply to Stan Lee because Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, etc. were works for hire. Superman wasn't, although...well, just about everything that everyone associates with Superman is. If, for whatever reason, the U.S. rights completely reverted to the Shuster/Siegel estates, they wouldn't be able to do much with the character since the villains, the overwhelming majority of the supporting cast, most of the details of his origin, many of his powers/weaknesses/etc. are all owned by DC. Also, they own the character but wouldn't be able to use his name in the title, essentially wouldn't be able to promote it if they created another book... What it does, really, is force DC to shell out a big stack of money for their profits for Superman since 1999 and make it a pain in the ass for them to publish anything with the character. They're going to write an enormous check to get the Shuster/Siegel estates to go away, and that's really all those estates care about in the first place.

I think both sides have come off pretty badly at varying times over the years, personally.
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Old 04-02-08, 09:56 AM
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Yeah this is just a strong arm to get more money out of the deal. Time Warner will write that fat check to make them go away.

It sucks, but thats the deal S & S accepted back then. And weren't they rejected by all the newspapers as well?

Id just be happy that my family created Superman and would just want some nice free swag once in a while.

Though good luck if the estate tries a comic with a strong guy in a gray suit, who can jump high, and isn't called Superman. Its worked well for Capt Marvel
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Old 04-02-08, 10:15 AM
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And again, greed trumps all!
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Old 04-03-08, 04:53 PM
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The family will probably go after the winner of this auction next:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll...MEWA:IT&ih=016
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Old 04-03-08, 07:28 PM
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Are the Seigel and Shuster widows still alive? I know Siegel's son died last year but I think Jerry Siegel's wife and inspiration for lois lane is still alive.
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Old 10-18-12, 07:28 AM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Its over, and they lost

Warner Bros maintains rights to Superman after court victory

Warner Bros Pictures has claimed a major victory on its fight to defend its rights to the Superman franchise.

A Los Angeles federal judge legally denied the effort taken by heirs of Superman co-creator Joseph Shuster to reclaim their 50 per cent interest from the fabled Kryptonian superhero, reported Ace Showbiz.

Judge Otis D Wright II of Federal District Court ruled that a 1992 binding agreement between Shuster's sister Jean & brother Frank and DC Comics had prevented the siblings from attempting to terminate copyrights.

In the agreement, Jean forfeited rights in return for Warners' settling of Frank's debts and payment of USD 25,000 a year for the rest of her life.
"The court finds that the 1992 agreement, which represented the Shuster heirs' opportunity to renegotiate the prior grants of Joe Shuster's copyrights, superseded and replaced all prior grants of the Superman copyrights. The 1992 agreement thus represents the parties' operative agreement and... is not subject to termination," Wright said.

The judge added, "By taking advantage of this opportunity, she Jean exhausted the single opportunity provided by statute to the Shuster heirs to revisit." Superman, first created in comic form in the 1930s, has become one the most valuable franchises for Warner Bros. The legendary character has generated over USD 500 million domestically from five movie adaptations. It also grossed billions of dollars from toys, games, comic books and TV series such as Smallville.

With the ruling, Warners and DC Comics are now allowed to move forward with their plans to produce the sequel to upcoming Man of Steel if the big-budget movie proves successful.

The studio can also move forward to produce DC's Justice League movie, which would have been impossible without the appearance of Superman.
Now that succubus lawyer can go away.
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Old 10-18-12, 01:22 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

I am elated over this decision. It was nothing but a money grab by the lawyer in the first place. Without WB's effective and total control over the Superman brand, the character's identity and place in the media was going to be hurt in the long run if the estates had won their lawsuit.
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Old 10-18-12, 02:33 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Actually, Warner only won the Shuster half of the fight. They're still in battle with the Siegel half. Toberoff still has one more chance to gain control of half of Superman.

From LA Times:

At a Nov. 5 appeals court hearing, the studio will attempt to overturn the Siegels’ copyright termination and Toberoff will seek more control over the character for his clients and to deny accusations of impropriety that Warner has made against him.

Last edited by The Valeyard; 10-18-12 at 02:39 PM.
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Old 10-18-12, 04:32 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Originally Posted by PhantomStranger View Post
I am elated over this decision. It was nothing but a money grab by the lawyer in the first place. Without WB's effective and total control over the Superman brand, the character's identity and place in the media was going to be hurt in the long run if the estates had won their lawsuit.
Considering that companies like Disney and Warner Bros successfully keep lobbying for laws to extend copyright, I don't personally care about the character's marketable identity becoming ruined or unprofitable. Maybe WB/DC could get someone to create the next Superman.
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Old 10-18-12, 06:11 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Apparently this opens the way for a Justice League movie, sometime in 2015 (see movie forum).
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Old 10-18-12, 07:58 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Legally, they had to start working on Zack Snyder's Superman at a certain time or lose the rights to make another one until after the lawsuit(s) were over. The Siegel heirs already won 50% of Superman which DC contested and had overturned (which November's appeal will finalize or not). If the Shuster heirs won yesterday's case, they could sue DC for the other 50%. Now that they're out of the picture, DC legally owns 50% of Superman and can make whatever films they want with the character.

Last edited by The Valeyard; 10-20-12 at 01:31 AM.
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Old 10-19-12, 11:22 AM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Where does this leave Superboy? Has it been determined who actually owns Superboy's copyright?
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Old 10-19-12, 01:24 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Originally Posted by dvd-4-life View Post
Where does this leave Superboy? Has it been determined who actually owns Superboy's copyright?
That is a much dicier proposition and an open legal question, which is why DC Comics has effectively eliminated the character from its history. I am talking solely about the real Superboy, Superman's adventures as a teen. It's one of the main reasons why Smallville never used the term on its show.
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Old 10-19-12, 01:31 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Originally Posted by PhantomStranger View Post
That is a much dicier proposition and an open legal question, which is why DC Comics has effectively eliminated the character from its history. I am talking solely about the real Superboy, Superman's adventures as a teen. It's one of the main reasons why Smallville never used the term on its show.
They(DC Comics) did produce a Superboy book( a year or so ago) with the original stories included in it from the original comic book.
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Old 10-19-12, 01:44 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Originally Posted by dvd-4-life View Post
They(DC Comics) did produce a Superboy book( a year or so ago) with the original stories included in it from the original comic book.
They have to publish a few adventures every few years, to retain any claim to the copyright. The character was once the lynchpin of the DC universe and is basically hidden now. In the 1960s, the Superboy comic was outselling the main Superman comics.
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Old 10-19-12, 02:55 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Originally Posted by PhantomStranger View Post
They have to publish a few adventures every few years, to retain any claim to the copyright. The character was once the lynchpin of the DC universe and is basically hidden now. In the 1960s, the Superboy comic was outselling the main Superman comics.
Isn't Wonder Woman the same way? She has to be published monthly per a deal with William Moulton Marston to retain copyright?
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Old 10-19-12, 04:52 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

I read that was true at one point but eventually, maybe in the late 80s or 90s, WB/DC bought WW outright from Marston or his estate.
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Old 10-19-12, 06:14 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Originally Posted by PhantomStranger View Post
They have to publish a few adventures every few years, to retain any claim to the copyright. The character was once the lynchpin of the DC universe and is basically hidden now. In the 1960s, the Superboy comic was outselling the main Superman comics.
This is why I have more Superboy than Superman comics. Now DC Comics need to get on their high horse and put out a Superboy(60s) and/ or Legion of Superheroes(60s) Omnibus.
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Old 10-20-12, 01:32 AM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Originally Posted by brayzie View Post
I read that was true at one point but eventually, maybe in the late 80s or 90s, WB/DC bought WW outright from Marston or his estate.

Yes. DC solely owns WW now.
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Old 10-24-12, 01:44 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

This is what happens when government gets too evolved.

And, you can thank Disney for all this craziness.

Disney was going to loose Mickey to the Public Domain several times, but they went to Congress to have the laws extended that were protecting their "Product" that was making them tons of cash.

The problem with Disney, as we all know, is that started/created their movie empire from "Public Domain" stories that others wrote 50/100 years earlier.
-Snow White
-Sleeping Beauty
-Little Mermaid
-Aladdin
-Beauty and the Beast
-Peter Pan
-Pinocchio
-Alice in Wonderland
...and many more

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/comment..._sprigman.html
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Old 10-24-12, 02:09 PM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Does Disney still own the home video rights to Spider-man 1967?

Why won't Warner Brothers sell Fantastic Four 1967 back to Marvel?
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Old 10-26-12, 08:43 AM
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Re: Shuster/Siegel estates win Superman court battle

Originally Posted by Iron_Giant View Post
This is what happens when government gets too evolved.

And, you can thank Disney for all this craziness.

Disney was going to loose Mickey to the Public Domain several times, but they went to Congress to have the laws extended that were protecting their "Product" that was making them tons of cash.

The problem with Disney, as we all know, is that started/created their movie empire from "Public Domain" stories that others wrote 50/100 years earlier.
-Snow White
-Sleeping Beauty
-Little Mermaid
-Aladdin
-Beauty and the Beast
-Peter Pan
-Pinocchio
-Alice in Wonderland
...and many more

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/comment..._sprigman.html
Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were published by Charles Perrault in 1697. The Little Mermaid was published by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. Aladdin was published by Antoine Galland in 1710. For all of these, Disney waited more than 120 years.

According to Wikipedia, the company that owns Peter Pan continues to defend its copyrights.

I don't like the continually lengthening copyrights, but people need to find better examples.

Last edited by Nick Danger; 10-27-12 at 11:18 PM.
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