Judge Grants Co-Creator's Heirs Share of Superman Copyright

Ruling could complicate future Man of Steel movies.

by | April 1, 2008 | Comments

Superman’s path back to the big screen — already proving itself to be surprisingly long and winding after 2006’s Superman Returns — may have just gotten even longer and more treacherous.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that the heirs of the character’s co-creator, Jerry Siegel, were entitled to a share of the Superman copyright — and have been since 1999. The ruling left unanswered a number of questions, such as monies owed in the last nine years, or whether the Siegels are owed a portion of the profits from Superman Returns.

Though the ruling has far-ranging implications for Time Warner’s ability to exploit Superman, it was actually focused on a very narrow piece of the character’s history — specifically, elements present in his first appearance in Detective Comics’ Action Comics Vol. 1. Though this leaves the vast majority of Superman’s story in the hands of Time Warner, his origin and basic ingredients are now shared with the Siegels. As the New York Times notes, the spillover from the ruling could be significant, threatening to “complicate Warner’s plans to make more films featuring Superman, including another sequel and a planned movie based on DC Comics’ Justice League of America, in which he joins Batman, Wonder Woman and other superheroes to battle evildoers.” And that isn’t all. Per the Times:

If the ruling survives a Time Warner legal challenge, it may also open the door to a similar reversion of rights to the estate of [co-creator Joe] Shuster in 2013. That would give heirs of the two creators control over use of their lucrative character until at least 2033 — and perhaps longer, if Congress once again extends copyright terms — according to Marc Toberoff, a lawyer who represents the Siegels and the Shuster estate.

Siegel and Shuster famously parted with the rights to Superman in 1937, accepting $130 in exchange for DC owning the character “forever” — but a 1976 law, summed up by the Times, “permits heirs, under certain circumstances, to recover rights to creations,” prompting the Siegels to bring suit against Time Warner in 1997.

Source: The New York Times

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