Thursday, April 06, 2006

Animated Legion news 22: Superboy trouble?

As can be read at various locations, a potentially troublesome issue for the Legion show has popped up in the last few weeks. A Los Angeles federal judge granted summary judgement in March saying that Joanne Siegel and Laura Siegel Larson (Jerry Siegel's widow and daughter) regained the rights to the Superboy character retroactive to Nov. 17, 2004. According to SciFiWire, quoting a Variety article:

The ruling now throws into question the ownership of Smallville episodes that have run since that date. The judge denied a request by the defendants—Time Warner, Warner Brothers and DC Comics—for a ruling that Smallville did not infringe on the Superboy copyrights. Warner Brothers said in response that it "respectfully disagrees" with the rulings and will pursue an appeal, the trade paper said.

Still to be resolved is the question of whether Smallville—now in its fifth season—is actually infringing on the Superboy copyright. No trial date has been set in the suit, which was filed in 2004, the trade paper reported.

As suggested by ToonWorldOrder, if the judge denied Time Warner/WB/DC's request that Smallville did not infringe on Superboy's rights, there's no way they'd win if they tried to assert that Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes didn't infringe.

And what does that say to any Superboy in the DC Universe following Infinite Crisis? More importantly for the Legion show, will WB pursue the series as it pursues an appeal in the case, which it lost last month?

Needless to say, the Superman-related web sites have been following this as well. Adam at has a copy of the Variety article. Some of the details of the case, from Variety:
Still to be resolved is the question of whether "Smallville" -- now in its fifth season and centered on a teenage Clark Kent -- is actually infringing on the Superboy copyright. No trial date has been set in the suit, filed in 2004.

In their request for partial summary judgment, Siegel and Larson didn't ask for a copyright infringement ruling, which Lew said would require a "detailed factual comparison." But he noted, "Enough facts are presented, where this court, contrary to defendants' request, could find that the main character in 'Smallville' is in fact Superboy."

Lew also added in a footnote, "In the Superboy comic strip, a billboard on the side of a rural country road announces, 'Welcome to Smallville! Home of Superboy."

In response, Warner Bros. also pointed out that the suit is directed solely to rights relating to the costumed character Superboy -- not Superman. "Moreover, the court's ruling does not affect the television series 'Smallville,' which is grounded in depictions of a young Superman that pre-date the publication of Superboy in 1944 and which therefore are not subject to the termination notice, even if valid," Warner added.

Marc Toberoff, who represents Siegel and Larson, told Daily Variety that the only representations of a younger Superman which pre-date 1944 Superboy consist of one or two panels showing Superman as a baby or toddler. "Jerry Siegel's Superboy focuses on Superboy's relationship with his parents and his adventures with school classmates in a small town which, by Superboy No. 2, was named Smallville," he added.

The article goes on to explain that in 1947, Siegel sued National over ownership of Superman and Superboy. National was awarded Superman, Siegel won Superboy. In 1948 later he sold ownership of Superboy and all of his remaining Superman rights to National (later DC). When Congress amended copyright law in 1976, the terms allowed Siegel's heirs (his wife and daughter) to terminate their grant of the Superboy copyright in 1948 in 2004. DC, of course, protested and is opposing their efforts.

As Mark Evanier summarizes it,
In purchasing Superboy from Siegel and Shuster, DC acknowledged that Jerry and Joe were the rightful owners. Judge Lew is now saying, in effect, "That matter was settled long ago." Time-Warner, as DC's current owner, cannot now go in and argue that Siegel and Shuster never owned the copyright.

Newsarama has more on the story (warning, Infinite Crisis #6 spoilers inside). Mark Evanier praises the Newsarama article - and summarizes it very clearly and succinctly - saying of the other comics news sites, "Most of 'em are too busy breaking scoops over who's inking the next Wolverine crossover to care about what I think is the biggest newsbreak in comics this century."

Stay tooned, I guess....

1 comment:

Michael K. Willis said...

From reading the various reports it sounds to me like the Siegels have the law on their side. It would seem that Time-Warner would be better served by trying to come to some kind of agreement with the family (presuming DC still wants to use the Superboy concept in whatever form) rather than dragging out this legal case (though, that said, perhaps DC and TW don't want to let it go because they're afraid of a slew of other suits from creators claiming ownership on other characters.)

Failing that, hopefully the Legion cartoon show can be retooled (perhaps by following the comic's lead and using Supergirl instead of Superboy as the headliner.)