Friday, March 28, 2008

Superboy lawsuit update (edit #3)

Via Jeff Trexler:

This is the big one. The judge has issued a ruling in the case regarding the Siegel family's rights in Superman. It doesn't resolve all the issues--for example, this does not address the Superboy issue, which is a separate case. However, it does award the heirs copyright in the Superman material in Action Comics number 1 (the judge uses the term "Vol. 1", but that's only a reference to the first issue.).

See Trexler's page for a copy of the 71-page ruling.

Technically nothing has been resolved yet in the Siegels vs DC/Time Warner case regarding copyrights to Superboy, but the judge ruled on the Superman case: exercising their rights granted to them (and all copyright holders and their heirs) by Congress in 1976, the Siegels recaptured a share of the copyright to the Superman material in "Action Comics" #1. The Superboy case is another case altogether, whether the character is derivative of Superman (in which case DC gets the copyrights) or whether he is a separate character created by Siegel and Shuster not created as work for hire (in which case the Siegels get the copyrights).

See this New York Times article for a fairly easy to read synopsis:
A federal judge here on Wednesday ruled that the heirs of Jerome Siegel — who 70 years ago sold the rights to the action hero he created with Joseph Shuster to Detective Comics for $130 — were entitled to claim a share of the United States copyright to the character. The ruling left intact Time Warner’s international rights to the character, which it has long owned through its DC Comics unit.

Time Warner lawyers declined to discuss the decision, a spokesman said. A similar ruling in 2006 allowed the Siegels to recapture their rights in the Superboy character, without determining whether Superboy was, in fact, the basis for Warner Brothers’s “Smallville” television series. The decision was later challenged in a case that has yet to be resolved, said Mr. Toberoff, who represented the family in that action.

Trexler points to a blog by William Patry, whose copyright treatise is referenced in the ruling, who now happens to be the Senior Copyright Counsel to Google, Inc.
I will say it is a brilliant opinion must have taken an extraordinary amount of time. It is very readable (and with great pictures!), which is very high praise given the extreme complexity of the facts and the legal issues at stake, If there was a Pulitzer Prize for judicial opinions, Judge Larson would win (with supporting awards for his hard-working clerks.).

Read the Times article and the two blog entries first, then read Blog@Newsarama's coverage. Save that one for last, so you can read the comments from those accusing the Siegels of being greedy.

This is far from the end of the line. Expect a lot of litigation on the Superman issue, and we haven't even gotten to the Superboy issue yet.

Update #1: Jeff Trexler has a FAQ up for those of you who, like me, can say "IANAL" (I am not a lawyer) but want to understand what's going on.

Additionally, see coverage at Journalista ("Sometimes, the good guys do in fact win"), the LA Times, Comics 212, Comic Book Resources, Wired, and soon to be lots more.

Update #2: Tom Bondurant of Newsarama (who is a lawyer) provides his opinion on what it all means. Most amusing are the hair-pulling, clothes-rending, plaintive cries of "woe is me, what will I do in a world without Superman?".

Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily gets to put her anti-studio spin on the ruling.


Greg said...

Wow. Those Newsarama people are something special, aren't they?

Patrick C said...

I'm just working my way through the new material now. I'm so torn on this issue. I want Superman with DC Comics, but we need to respect creator rights. If DC just treated everyone better 70 years ago, we could have avoided this.

Michael said...

At least until 2013, Superman's not going anywhere. DC still owns Joe Shuster's half of the copyrights, though those are set to terminate in 2013 through the same mechanism as this case. From what I read in the document, co-owners of a copyright can do what they want with it, but they have to share the profits somehow.

Given this case, it's likely that Shuster's heirs would win as well, which would leave DC with no copyrights on Superman, but that doesn't mean that he could show up in the Marvel Universe - DC still owns the trademarks, which include the blue suit, the S-shield, and the logo.

It's likely that at some point, DC/Time Warner will settle the case with a big check, if not buying Superman altogether then being the exclusive and perpetual sole licensor of him.

Also - and I'm not trying to apologize for them - you can't hold employers from 70 years ago to the same standards as today, so to say that Detective Comics should have treated them better back then doesn't really work since that's what the industry standard was at the time.

J.D. Long said...


We really need a better acronym here -- I feel like I'm posting at the ADVOCATE or something.


Greg Morrow said...

On later reflection, it occurs to me that the assholes on display at Newsarama and Deadline Hollywood Daily* might be astroturf. We saw during the writer's strike that the studios had substantial astroturf operations, and it is no great leap to suspect that Warners may have set their turfers loose on this decision.

It certainly makes more sense than believing that there are a jillion superhero comic book fans who think that Superman's creators don't deserve a share of his rewards.

*Kudos to Michael for excellent work explaining the decision in that thread.

Michael said...

It certainly makes more sense than believing that there are a jillion superhero comic book fans who think that Superman's creators don't deserve a share of his rewards.

It's a combination of those who think the Siegels are being greedy - "they didn't create him, so why should they profit?", which of course means that they don't want to inherit any of their parents wealth - and those who are afraid of the Siegels ripping Superman away from DC and publishing their own version, or worse, licensing him to Marvel.

To think that all those Usenet idiots would have grown up by now...

Kudos to Michael for excellent work explaining the decision in that thread.

Thanks, but it's like shouting into a hurricane. There's so much noise and wind that it gets drowned out.

The Newsarama board is particularly bad on this case. You'd think if TW/WB/DC had shills in this case, they'd hit all the boards, but it looks like just Newsarama. Honestly, it's like they don't even read the article that they're commenting on before spouting off.