Robot 6

Joanne Siegel’s posthumous appeal to Warner Bros.


Joanne Siegel, widow of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, passed away on Feb. 12 with her family’s prolonged legal battle with Warner Bros. over the Man of Steel still unresolved.

Although a judge ruled in 2008 that the Siegels had successfully recaptured half of the original copyright to Superman, paving the way for the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013, Warner Bros. has continued its increasingly bitter fight for the property. In May the studio went so far as to sue the attorney representing the two families in an effort to force him to resign.

Noting the recent changes in tone and tactics, Joanne Siegel prepared a letter to Time Warner Chairman Jeffrey L. Bewkes just two months before her death asking for an end to such “mean-spirited tactics” as the lawsuit against attorney Marc Toberoff and multiple depositions of herself and daughter Laura Siegel Larson, both of whom were in poor health.

“My daughter Laura and I, as well as the Shuster estate, have done nothing more than exercise our rights under the Copyright Act,” Siegel wrote in the letter, obtained and published by Deadline. “Yet, your company has chosen to sue us and our long-time attorney for protecting our rights. […] The solution to saving time, trouble, and expense is a change of viewpoint. Laura and I are legally owed our share of Superman profits since 1999. By paying the owed bill in full, as you pay other business bills, it would be handled as a business matter, instead of a lawsuit going into its 5th year.”

The latest turn in the case came just last week, when it was reported that Toberoff had asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to determine exactly what elements from Superman’s mythology his clients can reclaim as a result of the 2008 court ruling.

Read the full text of the letter after the break.

December 10, 2010

Jeffrey L. Bewkes
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Time Warner Inc.

Dear Jeff,

I am Joanne Siegel widow of Jerry Siegel, creator of Superboy and co-creator of Superman with Joe Shuster. It has always been my policy to be in touch with the Chairmen of the Board of your company going back to when Steve Ross formed Warner Communications.

Steve Ross knew how to take care of large vexing problems. He paid the price, whatever it was, then went on, and the company prospered. He was gracious and friendly when my late husband Jerry and I met him at a stockholders meeting after he sent Jerry, Joe, my daughter Laura and me company stock. He also phoned me to say if we needed anything I should just pick up the phone and call him. He said if he could not be reached for some reason, one of the top officers in the company, Deane Johnson, would handle things personally. Laura and I believe if Steve were alive our copyright ownership matter would have been successfully resolved long ago.

Jerry Levin was also reachable and thoughtful. He sent my husband and later me, cases of grapefruit at the holiday season. He remembered Jerry’s birthday with a Superman sculpture. When my Jerry passed away, Jerry Levin told Laura and me that we are part of the Time Warner family, part of its history. Unfortunately he retired before our rights issues were resolved. He had given his attorneys too much power so that negotiations were unsatisfactory and a settlement was impossible. Dick Parsons, on the other hand, was not friendly and, under him, the attorneys hired by the company were arrogant and pro-litigation.

Now you are Chairman and CEO. Because we are in litigation I held off writing to you. I now believe had we had contact early on, things might not have gone so far off track.

My daughter Laura and I, as well as the Shuster estate, have done nothing more than exercise our rights under the Copyright Act. Yet, your company has chosen to sue us and our long-time attorney for protecting our rights.

On December 1st I turned 93. I am old enough to be your mother. I have grown grandchildren. Unfortunately I am not in the best of health. My cardiologist provided a letter to your attorneys informing them that I suffer from a serious heart condition and that forcing me to go through yet another stressful deposition could put me in danger of a heart attack or stroke. I am also on medications that have side effects which force me to stay close to home and restrooms. Nonetheless your attorneys are forcing me to endure a second deposition even though I have already undergone a deposition for a full day in this matter. As clearly they would be covering the same ground, their intention is to harass me.

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My dear daughter Laura too has painful medical conditions including multiple sclerosis, arthritis, glaucoma, spine disorders, and fibromyalgia. She has already had her deposition taken twice by your attorneys while in pain. Her doctors have given written statements saying she should not be subjected to a third deposition, yet your attorneys are insisting on re-taking her deposition in an effort to harass her as well.

So I ask you to please consider – do these mean spirited tactics meet with your approval? Do you really think the families of Superman’s creators should be treated this way?

As you know, DC and Warner Bros. have profited enormously from 72 years of exploiting Jerry and Joe’s wonderful creation. Superman is now a billion dollar franchise and has been DC’s flagship property for all this time.

As for this letter, the purpose is three-fold:

To protest harassment of us that will gain you nothing but bad blood and a continued fight.

To protest harassment of our attorney by falsely accusing him of improper conduct in an attempt to deprive us of legal counsel.

To make you aware that in reality this is a business matter and that continuing with litigation for many more years will only benefit your attorneys.

This is not just another case. The public and press are interested in Superman and us and are aware of our and your litigations.

The solution to saving time, trouble, and expense is a change of viewpoint. Laura and I are legally owed our share of Superman profits since 1999. By paying the owed bill in full, as you pay other business bills, it would be handled as a business matter, instead of a lawsuit going into its 5th year.

Even though you will no doubt pass this letter on to your attorneys, the final decision is yours. Your image as well as the company’s reputation rests on a respectable and acceptable outcome, and I hope you will get personally involved to insure this matter is handled properly.

The courtesy of a friendly and meaningful reply from you will be most appreciated.

Joanne Siegel



God bless you Joanne. A humane appeal falling on the psychopathic ears of a corporation (because if corporations are people too then we should ask what kind of a person would a corporation be?).

Shelly Valladolid

March 28, 2011 at 7:46 am

Maybe it’s time for an organized boycott/protest.

wow go joanne, standing up to the big guy who would do anything to stop or delay the proceedings by any means by not giving her the rights by copyright law, well I think the corporation will wait out until no one will stand against them by holding out for a long time. i hope dc comics joke on their winnings if they do get what they want. I hope they rot as well as their stinky stories of the dc heroes that bring them in the money.

Makes me want to not purchase anything DC related. Amazing how the big company can take away from the little person. I think I am done with DC comics for a while.

The more I read about this case the more I find myself hating DC.

While I sympathize with Mrs. Siegel I have never felt that Siegel and Shuster were legally entitled to any remuneration. Simply put they made a bad deal and that should be the end of it. I never read anywhere where they were tricked, coerced, or conned into selling Superman. The people who bought the character could just as easily have lost what they paidout if Action Comics had been a failure. This has always been a case of sellers remorse to me and the families of these two great men should just step back from all of this and let it go. If superman had not happened in the way that it did, being bought and paid for, I don’t believe he would be the successful character he is today and that is by virtue of DC Comics and their handling of the character.

Roquefort Raider

March 28, 2011 at 8:06 am

Mrs. Siegel is a brave woman who tells it like it is: this is a simple business matter. Further litigation will only benefit the attorneys involved, and will look back on DC.

Just pay the damn money already, Warner, and turn the page. It’s not a defeat or whatever, it’s just the cost of doing business.

She sounds desperate — I think Warner Bros. has her on the ropes.

If you want to boycott something, boycott Warner Bros. There’s no way on earth that the parent company would let DC lose this copyright. Even if the Siegels & Schusters won all the rights from DC, Warner Bros. would fighter and nastier.

Honestly, this will probably take decades to completely unfold, and if Warner sees their chances for full ownership slipping away, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them bury the property as deeply as they could to make the character and his trademarks useless, like we thought the were (and they may possibly have been) doing with Superboy a few years back.

Another in a long line of heartless corporations. Why would DC Comics be any different? You think the shareholders give a crap about these poor women? Hell no. Maybe they can keep this in litigation until the daughter dies too.

This is why I believe the Copyright Act should never have been amended back in 1976. To be honest, I wish Mark Twain had failed in his efforts to amend it back in his day.

Copyright originally existed to protect the Public Domain. It was designed as a way for CREATORS to get fair pay for their work, but for that work’s property rights to expire after a time so that they may benefit culture as a whole. Can anyone say the world would be a better place if Shakespeare’s descendants still held control of his works and charged schools and obscene amount of money in order to teach Hamlet in class?

Mark Twain’s argument was that his family should continue to profit off of his work after his demise, and in the face of protracted legal battles like this I cannot disagree more. I don’t see any reason why a family’s estate should continue to profit off of work they have no hand in creating, nor should Warner Bros really have full control over the Superman character beyond the continued stories they publish. As much as I feel DC Comics has done a fine job of shepherding the character over the years, I cannot find myself in favor of this position of perpetual Copyright; and even less so in favor of a group of individuals profiting off of a property without actually putting in any work to the continued development of that property.

I’d ask that everyone please take a look at this chart and see for yourself the sickening progression of the true problem here:

Were it not for the 1976 Copyright act, Superman would have fallen into the public domain as of 1995.

The reason this fight is happening in the first place is because of the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998, which extended the terms of Copyright for another 20 years, making it so that the term of Copyright is life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier.

The Siegels are fighting for a continued revenue stream until the year 2066 without having to do any actual work themselves for any of it…while Warner Bros is trying to defend their hold on the character until 2059.

In light of all this, for the reasons I have stated above, I feel neither party should have exclusive rights to the character; though Warner Bros should retain rights to the stories they continue to publish.

Aside from this, as much as I don’t see why either party should hold Copyright of the character at this point, it makes more sense to me that the company who is actually producing a product should have ownership vs the descendants and widow of a wonderful creator whom will profit without contributing anything further to society in it’s regard.

Until recently, I would have argued that it was not DC who you should hate, it was Time Warner. However, with the recent administrative takeover by Time Warner of DC, I guess it IS DC who can be hated for this prolonged treatment of these folks. While I have problems with the whole definition of this case, harassment of these folks, fighting for what they see as theirs, is not going to make heroes of Time Warner.


While I sympathize with Mrs. Siegel I have never felt that Siegel and Shuster were legally entitled to any remuneration.

Except that the relevant copyright laws (and the courts that have heard the case) say that the heirs of Siegel and Shuster are entitled to renumeration, so your “feelings” on the matter, while perhaps based in a particular ethical code to which you adhere, are not the law.

Skyrider, glad you’ve got your law straight, unlike so many of the onlookers.

At international law, there’s no such thing as a retroactive termination right. So either the copyright gets extended or it falls into the public domain… you don’t get this insane seller’s-remorse situation where a heavily invested in IP goes to a party that didn’t invest and NOT the public domain. It’s perhaps the worst aspects of American culture and attitude balled up into a single law.

They clearly lost their rights to the property via contract as the case decided decades ago, only by fluke of legislation and public manipulation do they have any rights today. Whether the WB or public domain- investors who will actually do something with the property rather than reap a payday off of it holding the rights hostage- is the international perspective.

As for those suggesting the novel approach of settlement… the WB has tried- again and again- and paid- again and again- but the estate has always come back afterwards, reneged on their agreements, and demanded more, so why would a settlement work this time? The current round of depositions isn’t even about the rights per se but whether Toberoff manipulated the estate into breaking the latest settlement agreement which- according to WB, the heir were happy with and would have abided by if not for Toberoff.

Ian Thal, except said laws were drafted almost entirely based on feeling.

The whole of international copyright law, the philosophical tenants of copyright law, jurists, and the majority of academic legal scholars think the seller’s-remorse retroactive termination rights is absurd. It doesn’t make sense EXCEPT to assuage a feeling. If you read the legal opinion of the case granting them their termination rights, there’s a little editorializing by the court saying- essentially- “Well this is silly, but it’s the law… for now.”

Even if you want to be a legal positivist and say, “The law is the law” wholly apart from reason or feeling or ethics or philosophy, there’s still a lot of game yet to be played. The issue of damages hasn’t been decided, the law could be retroactively changed yet again, or a jurist could “legislate from the bench” (and, given how many consider it absurd, that’s entirely possible- some judges consider it their duty to push Congress to legislate against decisions).

So I’m not sure what your point is except to state a truism. All that has been decided is that there is a termination right that has been validly executed. The damages decision might decide that the scope of that right is extremely thin and has already be compensated for.

I really wish WB would just make this right.. There’s no reason the fans should be deprived of any aspect of Superman’s story just because of a legal/financial dispute. People need to do some soul searching and ask themselves “Would Kal do this?”

So sick of this. These people act as if THEY had a hand in creating Superman. Fact is in those days being a comics creator was something you hid so I highly doubt they were supportive of any creator efforts.
And, correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t DC/Warner already given these families money time and again? Seems like everytime they need a few extra bucks they sue DC until they are given more and more money for something they had no hand in creating and suddenly fake an interest in.

WhiteRime, how exactly? The WB has paid off the Siegels REPEATEDLY, but they KEEP coming back.

The current round of discovery is to figure out if it is actually the Siegels who are unhappy with the settlements / agreements or if it is their lawyer, Toberoff, who has manipulated them into breaching the agreements and suing so that he can get HIMSELF a stake in Superman’s IP (he has investors lined up and created a production studio for the purpose of exploiting Superman).

If the WB’s filings are accurate, the Siegels WERE happy because the WB made it right through settlements and agreements UNTIL Toberoff came along. And now that every future communication from the Siegels is filtered through Toberoff, you can’t necessarily trust current statements of dissatisfaction as accurate representations of the WB’s efforts or the Siegels’ satisfaction at the time. That’s exactly why they need to be deposed to discover the truth of the matter.

“Except that the relevant copyright laws (and the courts that have heard the case) say that the heirs of Siegel and Shuster are entitled to renumeration, so your “feelings” on the matter, while perhaps based in a particular ethical code to which you adhere, are not the law.”

Fuck the copy right laws. These guys sold Superman back in the day. Why should their heirs get any more money now, 70 odd years later? Because the guys made a bad deal? Because they werent smart enough to consider the possibility that they would get more more if they held on to it? my heart bleeds.

Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t Warner/DC lose the copyright back to the Siegels at the end of 2012?

1) Why are people blaming DC comics for this? This is an issue with the parent company, WB, not DC. This is how rumors and false info gets spread.

2) LMAO at people claiming they are not gonna buy comics because of this. Is that really what you think the Seigels and Schusters want? If you stop buying Superman, then there’s nothing for them to collect on. The character dies, and nobody, including DC, WB, the S&S’s, and more importantly, THE FANS will enjoy the character anymore.

While I wish this could be equittably straightened out, it doesn’t do us (THE FANS) any good to pick sides in this. We only have half the story, as we’ve always had since this issue began years ago.

I was gonna make an in-depth comment about how Superman should be in public domain, DC should only have rights to the stories they continue to publish, and that the families don’t even want the rights, just the money that Time Warner earns on the property.

But Skyrider and Thomas pretty much knocked that one out of the park.

The creators of our heroes from every company were treated like dirt. This is not just with Siegel and Shuster, it is Ditko and Kirby, and many others as well who pioneered comics and made the companies what they are today. The smart thing would be for both sides to work things out away from the public view, but it appears that big money choose to put the thumb screws to the little guys in the hopes that they would cave and just want to be done with the case. I think the heirs are doing the right thing by standing up for the creators rights. Billions have been made on these properties with a long future and the companies should share the wealth or risk not owning the properties anymore. I don’t think boycotts are the answer to these issues as it will hurt the current artists and authors as well.

Thanks AJ Ryan, and Thomas.

I’m glad I’m not the only one making this point. I’ve been becoming more and more interested in the issue of our current Copyright and Patent laws over the last few years. Personally, I consider it a silent crisis that no one knows enough to pay attention to.

We need to stop looking at these articles as a back and forth and start looking at the underlying problem of Perpetual Copyright which is creating and festering senseless court battles such as this.

I think the original spirit of Copyright law has been lost over the years and we need to start talking about it before it continues to progress.

Despicable. We all know who created Superman! Give them what they deserve. I wish I had some finanicial clout to push TimeWarner and DC into doing what is right! Bastards.

Schnitzy Pretzelpants

March 28, 2011 at 9:57 am

I have to say that I agree with those of you that stated that the copyright law should never have been amended to the more outrageous lengths that it now has.

I suppose that in a perfect world, and if I created something with some monetary life in it, I would want that to extend for the length of my life, my spouse’s life, and the life of any children we might have. But not my grandkids.

Chances are, if I am making any kind of money, my grand-kids can reap the benefits from me, during my lifetime, and my kids lifetime.

I’ll say this though – I sure as shit wouldn’t want a single corporation making money off of something of mine if my heirs weren’t. If my creation had any life as a work, I would want it solely in the public domain, for multiple publishers and websites, etc keep it alive and inspiring new creative people, and entertaining new generations.

I guess I mention this because – maybe someone can correct me if I am wrong here – but didn’t these copyright laws get altered at the behest of these corporations like Time-Warner and Disney? Because, I am sorry, if that is the case, then I have to say that as long as there is a son or daughter of Siegel and Schuster running around with a beating heart, they should be getting a cut.

If these corporations opened up Pandora’s Box, then I say TOUGH – share the goddamn money, you greedy pigs.

I really wish that some law-maker steps up to the plate and says enough! Effective as of this date, these works must enter the public domain.


You know what I would love to see, a public domain trust fund set up in which going forward a part of the profits from Marvel and DC frachise characters are used to either a) take care of creators that are currently suffering financial hardship or B) a scholarship or bursary awarded to aspiring writers and artists.

Mark Parnell
March 28, 2011 at 10:02 am

You know what I would love to see, a public domain trust fund set up in which going forward a part of the profits from Marvel and DC frachise characters are used to either a) take care of creators that are currently suffering financial hardship or B) a scholarship or bursary awarded to aspiring writers and artists.’

This. Is. Awesome.
Seriously, this is the best idea I’ve heard.


I feel compelled to point out that by saying your children should continue to benefit off of a Perpetual Copyright claim after your demise, you’re essentially suggesting life of the creator + 30-40 years. Not arguing against your opinion, just trying to put a measure on it for you.

Personally I tend to think the Copyright claim should end at life of the author, or potentially 56 years from publication…whichever is later. I’ve been thinking a lot about situations like Dwayne McDuffie, and it seems unnecessarily cruel in a case such as his, where his estate would lose any royalties from his Milestone creations due to his untimely passing.

Of course my opinion on this is constantly evolving, as all should.

casual comics reader

March 28, 2011 at 10:29 am

I wish I could get money for something I had no part in creating because my family made a poor business decision. It would certainly make life easier.

Greedy families.

DC Comics, Warner Brothers, and the Superman franchise are the only losers in the court of public opinion.”

Although Siegel’s wife and kids didn’t help him create the properties, I do believe that they deserve to be taken care of financially because that is what he would have wanted.

However, they have paid Jerry Siegel many times before, and his estate will never want to stop getting paid. Both sides want this to end, DC and Warner should come to an agreement with the Siegel estate where they pay a fair and reasonable ONE TIME payment.

I think that both sides are to blame in the stretching out of these legal problems. DC and Warner are greedy and bitter over the whole thing, and Joanne Siegel and her daughter are greedy and have a false sense of entitlement over a character that they never even created and the 2 of them haven’t done one thing to increase the popularity of the character.

I actually think that if any one deserves extra money it’s writers like John Byrne, Alan Moore, and all the many other writers, artists, and editors that have worked on the character for the past 70 years. If Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were the only people who worked on Action Comics and Superman from 1938 to 1992 (when Shuster died), then the character wouldn’t be that popular today. DC and Warner put time and money into the character.


March 28, 2011 at 10:54 am

Skyrider and Thomas have the jist of this: Siegel and Shuster signed off their claim to Superman more than once. Before that happened the first time, in the 40s, DC was paying them each 75K / year to work on the books; about a million / year in today’s money.

They were paid, and paid off. Multiple times.

But a retroactive change to copyright law has allowed them an opportunity to reclaim what they voluntarily gave up decades ago. So this isn’t about right/wrong/ownership.

It’s about taking advantage of the retroactive sellers-remorse law to get more money out of the situation.

The bottom line here is basically money! Neither the Superman’s creators’ descendants nor the company will give up the battle on the very thing that lays the golden eggs! I sympathize with the creators! I sure do! How many creators and their respective immediate families were denied of the recognition they both deserve. We must be glad that nowadays, creators have more legal rights than their counterparts way back simply because the latter were basically ignoramuses on the legal aspects of visual ownership. It is so anachronistic, if not unhistorical, to judge past creators’ decisions then of making a “bad deal” with the publishers or the companies they were once working with. Many artists, then and now, are basically non-business and legally savvies! They were, and still are, prone to the legal manipulations and commercial exploitations of the greedy lawyers and ever-hungry businessmen, respectively. On other hand, I do see the point of having the company challenging the legal ownership of the creators’ creation from the their descendants on the basis of the former does its best to keep the creation in good shape (and profitable) while the latter just sit on, relax, and receiving royalties without virtually doing anything at all. Yet, from the looks of it, the company tries its best to get ALL the profit while the creators’ descendants get nothing but pain and suffering. If the letter of the late widow of Siegel was to believe, I concur with her that this can be resolved if the company just honor what it did before the whole legal mess started. Another thing we must resolve here if we have something to contribute here is the appeal of revising the copyrights law that is very CLEAR, NO LOOPHOLES whatsoever, and most importantly, guaranteeing who should benefit more, particularly the creators and their children (I believe only the first degree should benefit, after that, the company or becomes a public domain). Again, I sympathize with the late Mrs. Siegel.

If the creators hadn’t been so badly treated over the years, this would never had gotten to this situation. Disney and others paid off congress to get a better deal for themselves, not realizing it would bite them in the ass. Pay up and move on. Marvel should do the same with the Kirby’s.


I’d like to clarify and point out that I’ve not been commenting on whether or not the original creators made the comic as a work for hire. I’m commenting mostly on global copyright concerns and my option that neither party should hold ownership over the character at this point, though DC should continue to retain ownership over the stories they publish. That way they still are able to profit off of the hard work of the current industry creators that continue to keep Superman a success.

From my perspective, while I sympathize with what Mrs. Siegel has be put through – there’s a legitimate disagreement over the ownership of Superman, and expecting anything less than a fight, if not a war, against DC’s lawyers is folly to say the least. Maybe she’s right, and the lawyers on DC’s part have been overly aggressive. But if her health was of such real concern, a settlement would have been in the best interest of all parties. That’s why DC sued their lawyer – because I can’t imagine he’s has Mrs. Siegel’s best interests at heart if he isn’t vigorously seeking a settlement. I just don’t believe DC wouldn’t offer some kind of fair settlement, just to put the matter to rest. I get the impression their lawyer is promising the family everything up to and including the moon – when a settlement would have been in his client’s best interests. Mrs. Siegel said it right in her letter – the Superman franchise is a billion dollar business – with people’s jobs on the line if DC felt they could no longer use the character without enough profit – I don’t see why she would actually think this wouldn’t be a big battle. 2 to 3 Depositions? You’re asking to cut out the beating heart of DC’s entire comic line – with some true and legitimate concerns over, wether she’s in the right or not, what part of the Superman mythos can actually be attributed to Mr. Siegel. If I took up the challenge of suing DC, I would certainly expect to spend my fair share of time in court. So while I don’t doubt she feels wronged by these tactics – it’s not unexpected, or necessarily unfair.

And again, the one person I see truly gaining anything from this on-going case – it’s their lawyer Mr. Toberoff. Why do I feel so sure to believe he’s the one at fault here? He showed his true colors when, just when Marvel was bought by the deep pockets of Mickey Mouse, he and the Kirby estate picked that time to sue Marvel for half of all of their characters (created by Jack Kirby or not. Kirby). He’s promising these families far too much, and he’s benefiting far too much from these proceedings going on as long as they have. Again, if health issues are of such great concern, why not settle with these companies? Maybe the Siegel and Kirby estates are right in their claims – I admit, as a comic fan, I’m probably biased because I don’t like these lawsuits threatening the continued publication of my favorite comics — but if even if the families are in the right – it’s the duty of their lawyer to seek a settlement.

I just hope these lawsuits come to an end, and with the best result for all parties involved.

It’s heart breaking really, I don’t fully understand WHY Warner are being such utter dicks about it, really, it seems they’re effectively refusing to pay someone something they owe them. it’d be like a publisher not sending a writer the royalties from the book they wrote and the publisher published, which it seems to me is almost EXACTLY the same thing as what Warner are currently doing.

It’s nothing to do with the fact these people are related to the Co creator of Superman, it’s INHUMANE to do what they’re doing, seemingly because they think if they stall long enough these people will just give up.

Does it effect my opinion of DC though? Not really, just because they’re part of the same company portfolio or whatever, doesn’t mean one necessarily has anything to do with the other.


Part of the problem is that Copyright Law is not as fully defined as other areas of the law, such as property, which creates a situation where terms like “work-for-hire” aren’t fully defined in the courts, thus resulting in lawsuits such as the Kirby estate’s current battle with Marvel.

People throw around the term “work-for-hire” like they have a clue what it means when in actuality they really don’t. To even be considered work-for-hire, certain criteria must be met, which most most comics, even those produced today, don’t meet.

First, there has to be an agreement in writing prior to the work actually being done, as there is no retroactive claims as established by no less than four superior court judgements. Second, there has to be a specific transfer in writing of the copyrights from the creator to the company. Let’s say a DC or Marvel writer or artist has an exclusive contract. The terms of that contract cover a specific period of time the work is created as well as what compensation will be paid as a result of that exclusivity. Otherwise, the company must obtain documents on each work created.

With regards to creators such as Jack Kirby, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, there was no work-for-hire as we know the term today. It was a vastly different business climate back then, so chances are, especially in Jack’s case, when most creators started a strip, many a time business was conducted verbally or with a handshake. In the case of Superman and Batman, we know there were contracts, but without seeing the actual documents, it’s DC’s word against the creators. Personally, my money is on the creators being more truthful, but I’ll allow the truth being somewhere in the middle.

In Jack’s case, chances are he and Stan decided to do some comics in a last ditch effort to keep the company going, as Marvel was on the ropes back then and thisclose to shutting its doors once and for all. There was probably no written documents until maybe 1963 or ’64, when they could finally look up and actually believe the company may be around for awhile longer. At that point, maybe Jack signed a document or two, but I highly doubt he signed anything on an issue-by-issue basis or the language of the contract was anything like the language of exclusive contracts that Marvel executes today.

Furthermore, while today’s creators have contributed to the success of SUPERMAN (and other longstanding characters), by most measures the success of the character was firmly established long before Neal Adams, John Byrne, Dan Jurgens or Geoff Johns ever worked on the property in any capacity. Whether one wants to admit this or not, they are more curators and hired guns than creators. One could easily make the argument the original Richard Donner film and SMALLVILLE series had more to do with the character’s enduring popularity than any comics creator of the past 40 years. Considering the print runs of modern comics, today’s comics creators are lesser known than those of years past. There is no one working on the books today that will be remembered in the same breath as the creators who actually created the characters.

What really boggles the mind are the individuals claiming greed on the part of the estates. Jerry, Joe and Jack would much rather see their families get a portion of the profits than everything going to executive’s who had nothing to do with the success of the characters either. The fact is there is more than enough profit to share between both the creators, their estates and the companies involved. However, it is due to very insidious nature of how corporations operate that we have these battles playing out.

Creators didn’t write the laws, nor do they have the power, access or resources to mount these battles that corporations have. All they can do is fight within the system the corporations themselves established. In this case, the creators are only claiming what the law allows for. Whether they were paid previously is beside the point. If there are further profits to be split, then they are still owed. There is no such thing as a one time payment unless all rights were sold in a one-time deal. The fact is no one posting on this board knows the actual contractual language of any deal between the estates and DC/Time Warner, so to claim everything a done deal a long time ago is ridiculous based on the court rulings in recent years. If DC/Time Warner had properly executed a total buyout way back when, this battle would not be occurring today. DC/Time Warner would have produced the documents that would have resolved this mess long ago if they had them. Considering the property has always been valuable, it’s hard to imagine DC/Time Warner not having such documents easily available to produce for a court to rule on.

Brian from Canada

March 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm


It wasn’t Warner’s, it was IBM, with Disney. Disney was pushing for the extension because early Mickey cartoons would be coming into the public domain and that would allow new artists to utilize the images any way they wanted without Disney’s permission (except in the name Mickey Mouse, which is trademarked).

But the clause in question belongs to none of them. It belongs to Sonny Bono, who added it as a clause to the act, and it’s easy to see why: Bono (half of Sonny & Cher) knew many of the early musical artists who got screwed by their record companies, including notable names like The Beatles and Little Richard.

NOBODY ever expected this to end up dealing with comicbooks. Nobody.


DC, or rather Warner Brothers, has on several occasions come to a settlement with the Siegel and Shuster families. Each time something has occured to make the families backout. That is not DC or Warner’s fault. The latest was a settlement that DC had in place with Ms. Siegel, but her “NEW” lawyer stepped in and stopped the settlement. That is why DC/WB sued him. He stepped in at the last minute, after everything was agreed to… He setup a company so that he could benefit from the Superman Franchise, and he wrote into the new arguements that he get a portion of the rights to that Francshise as payment for his work as their lawyer…

SERIOUSLY… He wants part of the ongoing rights… That is why DC/WB is fighting so hard… Think about it… not only is he asking for the Siegel heirs to get continued payment, but himself as well… He isn’t looking out for what is best for the Siegel’s or the Kirby’s he is looking to make a big profit himself…

All the other creators made agreements with DC. Including the Shuster’s, Kane’s, and Moulton’s. All have continued to benefit from their creations in far greater ways then would have been allowed at the time they were created. Can you imagine in that day-and-age that a creator owned property would have survived? It is DC/WB that has allowed these creations to continue, to grow, and to profit in ways that were never meant to be covered by the original copyright laws.

I agree with others that Superman should be Public Domain, but the law was changed to allow Disney to retain Mickey Mouse, and that affected everyone else… Thanks Disney…


Thanks for the touch upon the nature of the law with work for hire. I’m not familiar with the nuances of the law so I’ve refrained from commenting on them. My stance is still firmy that Superman should be public domain, thus invalidating the whole issue.

I do not believe a creator’s estate should continue to profit past the creator’s demise for works they have no part in creating as they are receiving payment without contribution to society. If DC keeps making Superman comics they can be paid for them, but again up to a REASONABLE copyright term.

Brian from Canada

March 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm

While I applaud Mrs. Siegel’s desire to refocus on basics — the law allows this, they just want their legal share, etc. — the letter doesn’t match the reality of the situation.

The reality is, it’s not about royalties owed. Had the law said that a fair renumeration should be calculated between creators and companies, there would be far less of a problem than there is. Because at the heart of this is the word copyRIGHT — my emphasis — and that word means “control.”

With control, you can dictate how the character is used from now on. You can determine what reproductions are made. And for every use of the character, there must be a negotiation.

From Warner Bros.’ point of view, this means having to negotiate a rate for the comics, then the movie, then the T-shirts, then the underoos, and so and so on. Plus, there’s no guarantee that those licenses are purely WB’s when they have it: if the Siegels or Shusters object, say, to Lois Lane’s politics, and they don’t have it in the contract that DC has complete control over that aspect, they can go back to court.

(That’s not to say WB isn’t fighting to keep the profit in house rather than paid out. That has to be a concern.)

But the real point of this all now is Toberoff. I’m sorry, comic fans, but when the lawyer asks for specific properties to be controlled under the copyright, that smells as if someone wants their toys back. And if the toys get taken out of the DC toybox, this could be extremely damaging to DC and the industry as a whole.

It also smacks of greed because of what’s coming for Superman — including syndication rights for Smallville.

Marvel and Disney have the same fear as well from Jack Kirby’s estate. Kirby’s creation of characters is more questionable under the “work for hire” idea than the Siegel & Shuster’s presentation of a complete Superman story to DC, but the heart of it is still the same: the Kirbys could, effectively, take half of the control and a big chunk of the profits from Marvel.

And if they do — if ANY of these families succeed — there’s a very real chance that the majors will become unprofitable to print as comics in the way they are now. We could see the crippling of the industry (or at least a good stabbing) coming, and WB *HAS* *NO* *CHOICE* in fighting to prevent that.

Do the families deserve an increased royalty in this ever-more licensed world? Yes. Absolutely. For, if anything, the royalties on a printed comic will be different than a digital one. (Same as SAG and WGA argued last strike.) But the companies have to fight for what they’ve got or else is could, potentially, destroy the crumbling house that made these properties profitable in the first place.

nice that till the end Joan kept fighting for her family legacy too bad that warner’s in their desire to keep the fortune from super man will not honor joan’s wishes and just settle the thing. and be done with it. pay the settlement Joan asked for and finish the thing.

DC can (and I’m sure, will) tie this up in litigation for YEARS, I doubt any of the Siegel’s heirs will ever see a red cent from this…

Kirby Fan,

“DC/Time Warner would have produced the documents that would have resolved this mess long ago if they had them.”

They did, however, you can’t contract away certain rights you can only make legally unenforceable agreements in this particular arena. For example, you can’t legally sell your vote in a public election (even if it’s to not vote). So in this particular area, the best the WB could do is ask for the heirs’ word… “Here, have some money if you promise not to sue or exercise this right.” And the heirs took it every time and then broke their promise every time. The WB can’t sue them for breaking their promise because of the rights involved, so the best they can do is try again or fight on a different front.

At this point, the stakes are too high because of Toberoff’s involvement. He doesn’t want a payout like the heirs have historically taken… he wants Superman. No matter what side you’re on, you believe the rights should go to the Public Domain, DC, or the heirs… no Superman fan thinks, “Gee, I hope the rights to Superman go to a lawyer because of California entertainment law loophole!”

The WB HAS to fight because of Toberoff. Once he’s sanctioned or removed or disbarred they can get back to settlement talks just as everyone wanted.

Superman sucks now anyway.

There really are a lot of heartless, brainless turds commenting here. And yes, I’m referring to all you “screw the Siegels, I want my Superman comics.” assholes. Fanboys like you, make me fucking sick.

hard to believe comments here that feel sorry for Warner Bros, a huge corporate entity that has amassed billions off of the creations of guys that had creative heart to spare but no hard head for business. it was generations ago. so, fuck them, right? and the Kirbys over at Marvel/Disney too, while you’re at it.

no, wrong.

if you read superhero comics then surely you are meant to believe in heroes…and not paying your dues (even if you can argue a legal position not to do so, or pay lawyers millions to argue it for you)… well, it’s just not heroic, is it? Quite the opposite.

For the love of–haven’t they ever heard the old saying? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Why didn’t Jerry and Joe first join DC in the first place? If they were on the payroll, heck if one of them had served as editor in chief or something, then there wouldn’t be all this legal mumbo-jumbo.

In the meantime, why haven’t the Siegels and DC considered a co-ownership deal, or a royalties deal? Musicians do it all the time!

This is part of the reason why I dont read Superman or its surrounding elements (ie Superboy, Lois Lane, etc, etc.). It is painful to see and watch a company such as this resort to such tactics. As it has been stated why dont the Shusters and Siegels hash out a royalties deal???? They would get the monies that they are owed and Warner Brothers should man up and pay what is owed to the Siegels in the first place instead of letting this lawsuit go any further than it has.

I have to agree wholeheartedly with Madmike.

By the way, I wonder if Bill Finger has any living heirs. Now there’s a guy who REALLY got screwed!

With the exception of the knee-jerk “corporations are evil” and “poor Siegel” posts, this has been an illuminating thread.

Thanks to Thomas, Kirby Fan, Sky Rider and Brian from Canada for the intelligent and thoughtful posts.

To Skyrider –

The point of the Siegel and Shuster estates regaining the copyrights is that IT IS THEIR PROPERTY, whether or not you agree it should be in public domain or not. The way the laws work, they recognize that creators – especially those who created work pre-1976 – were not in the best bargaining position to begin with, so the laws were written to allow the publishers, film studios, whatever business you care to name, the right to make the initial profits from the creation. This did not mean they could keep the creations in perpetuity, but it did mean that at some point the creator – or his/her estate – could profit for a time from the creation before it eventually went into public domain. Again, keep in mind the duration of the current copyright laws are the result of corporations trying to hold onto whatever they can for as long as they can. The creators have had little if any say or effect in how the laws were written to begin with, so the deck is already stacked against them to begin with.

To Brian from Canada –

There are currently few if any titles currently published by either Marvel or DC that are currently making a profit. I don’t know any creators these days working for either who are receiving royalty checks such as creators received back in the 90’s. If it weren’t for advertising and licensing, DC and Marvel would be scaling back in a major way, or else paying creators on a level comparable to Archie rates. That’s all comics are these days, nothing but a cheap form of R&D to develop multi-media properties. I give it 5 to 10 years at most before Disney decides to either (a) go all reprint with the Marvel line or (b) shut down the publishing operation of Marvel altogether and license the characters to other publishers, allowing them to maximize profits and revenues while cutting costs. From a publishing perspective, the industry is on life support as it is, and it’s only a matter of time before comics go all-digital and the 32-page format is completely abandoned.

To blame the Siegels, the Shusters or their lawyer for whatever happens to the comics industry ignores the fact that the industry is in a mess of their own making and that the Siegels, the Shusters, the Kirbys and anyone else in their shoes has a right to take back their toys and do with them as they will.

I wonder if the heirs of Salvador Dali, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso or any of the many modern artists could also make similar claims and ask for ownership rights of their ancestors creations?

I’m so sick of this family trying too use the copyrights too Superman to get more money from DC/WB!

@mjh: “Simply put they made a bad deal and that should be the end of it.”

If they adhere to their end of the deal, then DC should adhere to its end: Superman should be public domain.

@Bull: “Fuck the copy right laws. These guys sold Superman back in the day. Why should their heirs get any more money now, 70 odd years later?”

Because the original deal expired.

The original deal was that National/DC would own Superman for 56 years. Time’s up.

What you’re proposing is not the Siegels adhering to their end of the deal — they already have. You’re proposing they let DC keep the Superman rights, beyond the original term agreed to, in exchange for absolutely nothing.

Now THAT would be a bad deal.

@Mike: “I wonder if the heirs of Salvador Dali, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso or any of the many modern artists could also make similar claims and ask for ownership rights of their ancestors creations?”

No, because the copyrights expired.

The Superman copyright hasn’t expired, though it would have by now if not for the Copyright Act of 1976.

Because the copyright term was extended AFTER Siegel and Shuster sold the Superman rights, their statutory heirs can reclaim those copyrights.

Contrary to what other posters are claiming, Siegel and Shuster did not sell the rights to Superman in perpetuity, until the heat death of the universe. They sold them for a period of 56 years, which was, at the time, the length of a copyright in the US.

The 56 years has expired. Siegel and Shuster adhered to their end of the bargain; DC got Superman for 56 years.

The posters claiming that DC is entitled to keep Superman forever and the Siegel and Shuster heirs are trying to change the terms of the deal have it backwards. Siegel and Shuster kept their end of the bargain, and DC is trying to keep the rights for a longer period than they are entitled to.

The only way this will be resolved is in the Supreme Court. The expansion of the copyright act was excessive in the extreme.

I don’t know the ins and outs of the case, but in response to those people who think heirs shouldn’t be entitled to a property….thats pretty crazy to me. The “they didn’t have a hand in creating him/it” argument is weak to me. You can guarantee that the spouse and children and possibly grandchildren all sacrificed something in a family…and the assets that anyone builds for their family should go to their family. If my father worked in the international oil business and was away for most of my childhood, he’d be sacrificing my relationship, his relationship with my mom, his grandchildren… and much more for our families financial benefit….we’d be entitled to whatever he’d left us. Why should a creator give up his rights to something just after his death or within a few decades after? I don’t think properties should be held forever….but a lifetime after a creators death would be somewhere in the ballpark to me….probably like 100 years from intial creation….half of the creators life and predicted life spans of his children.

In response to Nick above…

Unfortunately, those type of stipulations were not addressed back in those days of comic work, so essentially what you have here is the signing away of one’s future rights with no regard to family members.

Warner Bros. has tens of millions of dollars to battle this out with the Siegels and yer kidding yourself if you think they have any shot of winning a settlement.

The Warner CEO Jeffrey L. Bewkes didn’t get to be CEO with a kind heart and disposition. It’s all about “winning” as ol’ Charlie would say.

True, Siegel and Schuster made a bad deal. They were very young men dealing with Shady businessmen. The DC of the time was connected to organized crime and the numbers racket. Not everyone was as wise as Will Eisner or Bob Kane. Superman was in no way a work for hire. It was created in Cleveland and shopped around as a newspaper strip. SIgning away the rights was the price of entry to get published. The right thing to do is settle with the creators families, which had already been done in the seventies. If the creator’s heir should take away way Superman from DC, the property will not be of much worth at any other company. Binding arbitration should be used to cut the baby in half.

Sal! I hear you man, I was just responding to the few posters who seemed to have a blanket idea that a creator’s family shouldn’t benefit for their father/mothers creation and don’t like the “they had no hand in creating it” argument. Also, since you mentioned the not so kind hearted business men…I think the people saying superman would have been public domain by 1998 (if the family wouldn’t have stepped in) or will be by 2012 aren’t being very realistic. I’m pretty sure (1000%) that extensions/legislation would be past to prevent that. Anyways…like I said I don’t know the case or the history of it enough to give an educated response…was just responding to that one thought about a creator’s families rights to a work/creation.

No, you’re right. Corporations are saintly. If it weren’t for those darned Siegels…

I feel stupid just typing it.

Some of what I’m writing has been repeated by others but I won’t be the first one here to do that. The heirs are just exercising their rights under the law. They are not doing anything illegal or unethical. Is the law crazy or wrong? Maybe. But it is the law. These creator rights were added as a countermeasure to the main elements of the law which extended the rights of copyright holders. At the time, this was primarily large corporations, the main proponent being Disney. Some of these businesses were going to lose their rights in the near future and see their precious characters fall into the public domain. They lobbied hard to get the amendments made and reaped huge monetary benefits since then. They knew the consequences of their actions, what they might be giving up in the future, but they understood that they would get short-term benefits and accepted it. The heirs’ actions are not blindsiding them. The corporations knew that this would happen some day. Since their creations would have been public a long time ago, I do not feel bad for them having to give up some profits now. Remember, the heirs do not want to stop publication of these characters, just reap the benefits that the corporations essentially agreed to years ago. People say they sold away their rights. Well, Disney, Time Warner, etc sold away their current interests when they had the Copyright Act changed all those years ago. I’m sure that the litigation will go on so long that fans can eventually say “Why should the great-great-great grandchildren of the creators reap the benefits?”

What say we do what all those fans did to get Betty White on SNL? Start a Facebook campaign to convince both sides of the battle to settle with a royalties deal. Maybe the intervention of a third party could end this thing once and for all.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman. Seigel created Superboy.
They were conned out of their ownership claim by the withholding of checks. They were paid $130 for the rights to Superman. Granted, a large sum at the time. But, a one time sum.
After their ten year contracts were up, Siegel and Shuster worked elsewhere and when they were shamed into it, began paying each man $20,000 a year for life in the mid 70’s.
They did NOT get any profit sharing rights from their brainchild or nobody would be suing Time Warner today.
There is a legal issue, but when a contract expires, it is renegotiated.
The families are due compensation. When someone creates a good or a service, unless they give up all rights in perpetuity, they and their heirs deserve a share of the profits.
The idea that TIME WARNER or DC COMICS went to a lot of expense to make SUPERMAN the sales giant that he is today is irrelevant as the foundation for that business empire was laid by two young men who created magic in spite of the times they lived in.
Business is business and the heirs should be paid and a new contract executed and this whole mess handled professionally.

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