Robot 6

Judge rules DC Comics owns Superboy rights

superboyEven as Cleveland’s mayor proclaimed April 18 “Superman Day” to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the release of Action Comics #1, a federal judge effectively brought to an end the lengthy legal battle for the rights to the Man of Steel.

Deadline reports that on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright granted summary judgment to DC Comics, declaring that a 2001 agreement with the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel included the rights to Superboy and advertisements for Action Comics #1. Those two issues had been left unresolved in a January decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturning a 2008 ruling that the family had successfully reclaimed a portion of Siegel’s copyright to the first Superman story under a provision of the 1976 Copyright Act.

Immediately following the successful debut of Superman in 1938, the writer had pitched DC the idea of a series following “the exploits of Superman as a young man.” The publisher twice rejected the proposal, but in 1943, while Siegel was stationed overseas in the Army, it released a five-page story introducing Superboy, without the writer’s consent. Four years later, Siegel and artist Joe Shuster filed two lawsuits against the publisher, one to void their Superman agreement and the other for the rights to Superboy; they ended up agreeing to drop all claims in exchange for $94,000. However, that was merely the beginning of the decades-long dispute.

In the 2008 ruling, the judge determined the Siegels’ 1997 copyright termination didn’t incorporate Superboy and the Action Comics preview ads, but on Thursday Wright wrote “they undoubtedly intended” for those works to be included, and used the potential termination of those rights as leverage to negotiate the 2001 settlement. Under that agreement, the Siegels relinquished all claims to Superman and Superboy (as well as The Spectre) in exchange for “a $2 million advance, a $1 million non-recoupable signing bonus, forgiveness of a previous $250,000 advance, a guarantee of $500,000 per year for 10 years, a 6% royalty of gross revenues, and various other royalties.” They were also to receive medical and dental insurance.

While the Siegels had argued they never accepted that deal, the Ninth Circuit determined in January that they had, therefore preventing them from reclaiming a portion of the copyright to Action Comics #1. The family has since changed strategy, arguing that if there was a contract with DC, then the publisher has failed to perform. (That explains the recent addition of the line “By Special Arrangement with the Jerry Siegel Family” to the credits of any DC title featuring Superman, a stipulation of the 2001 agreement.) Wright reiterated his earlier assertion that any breach-of-contract claims will have to be dealt with in state court.

Barring appeal, that contractual matter would appear to be the only dangling thread in the long, bitter fight for the rights to Superman.

The 2008 decision appeared, at least at the time, to pave the way for the Shuster estate to reclaim his portion of this this year, giving the two families ownership of the Man of Steel’s defining elements, including his origin, his secret identity, Lois Lane and certain aspects of his costume and powers (super-strength and super-speed). But in October 2012, a judge found that a copyright-termination filed in 2003 by Shuster’s nephew Mark Peary was invalidated by a 20-year-old agreement with DC in which the late artist’s sister Jean Peavy relinquished all claims to Superman in exchange “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” including payment of Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and a $25,000 annual pension for Peavy.

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Comments

19 Comments

Simon DelMonte

April 19, 2013 at 6:43 am

I’ve never quite understood how there could even be a separate copyright for Superboy when he’s more or less Superman. Either S&S (or DC) own everything or nothing.

Anyone have any good links that explain this quirk of copyright law that is clearly a real thing?

DC can do way more with the character than the S&S family can. Plus, the current S&S family didn’t do anything for superman. I wish they would just take a mountain of money (which they didn’t earn) and leave DC alone.

$94,000? Back in the 1940s how much would that be equal to in todays dollars?

Really a nephew tried to make money off this?

Hopefully this will be wrapped up soon. Seems like a lot of money has already been paid out.

how can superboy have a separate copyright when he really suppose to be superman in his young days . and thus once again dc manages to be able to have superman in their possession for good and thus his creators still get screwed a little bit after the victories they have won in this battle even though this is still far from over plus still don’t get how the spectre is included in this super man fight.

“…still don’t get how the spectre is included in this super man fight.”

The Spectre was co-created (with artist Bernard Baily) by Jerry Siegel.

I hope this is *finally* over. After being paid MILLIONS of dollars for the rights to Superman and his entire family, hopefully the creators’ families will finally shut the eff up. What more do they want? Go enjoy life and all the money you received. Quit being such whiny babies.

Knuckles MacHeidcase

April 19, 2013 at 8:48 am

I don’t understand how members of a family can claim ANYTHING from work done by Seigel and Shuster. These two did it all … not their families. In the 70s after the Chris Reeves Superman movie, Warner should have paid Joe and Jerry about $25mill each … heck, the film made over 10 times that … with clauses in the contract that stopped any further claims.

However, I bet this was a scam by a greedy, grasping lawyer trying to sink his hooks into the property! American Law needs to sort things out so that legal services like law firms don’t overly profit from ANY case!

And the families should understand that the well is now dry!

$94,000? Back in the 1940s how much would that be equal to in todays dollars?

About $1.3 Million according to http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm

Finally. One step closer to this being completely over. Those greedy parasitic descendants don’t deserve any more money.

Brian from Canada

April 19, 2013 at 10:04 am

Breach of contract should be easy now that DC has secured the rights: payment was delayed until they knew the final price and can now pay, especially from the (intended) profits of Man Of Steel.

Quite frankly, credit, annual stipend, health insurance (for those who are getting up there in years), plus back pay all seems to be quite a compensation for a character they’ve already made agreements upon before. WB/DC has also never painted the heirs as villains — their lawyer being another matter altogether — and I expect WB will invite them to the Man Of Steel premiere to try and show they are trying to be friends again.

Yup this sh!t needs to just end already. DC should own everything Superman by now and thats end of story.

So let me get this straight your father creates something very cool, he feels that he was wronged by the people that he made the deal with and uses every single legal recourse to get that wronged right but because the legal system is so slow he passes away you because you loved your family and yes there is a possibility to make well for yourself and your family by continuing your fathers crusade… this makes them greedy?

Incredible that DC always gave peanuts for this billion dollar property. They hoped they get sued big time for breaching their own contract. One wonders what others could do with Superman. Would Moore be willing to write for a creator-owned property like he did for Image?

pay some money to the family, settle, and produce some more DVD sets of the live action Superboy show.

@Demoncat “…how can superboy have a separate copyright when he really suppose to be superman in his young days .”

Because it’s not the concept of “young Superman” it’s literally the name itself “Superboy” where the copyright exists.

@Brenticles inflation from the 94000 dollars originally paid for by DC would equal out to 1.5 million dollars today.

How many times has S&S or their families relinquished their claims to Superman?

The $94,000 deal sounds like it was done a long time ago, then there was the deal around the time of the first movie, the 1992 agreement, the 2001 settlement…

I wrote this is 2009 for another forum and thought I’d just paste it here:

Alright I did a little research and found a couple of figures that make this interesting. Seigel and Shuster were paid $75,000 in 1940 (which in todays dollar would be $1,097781). In 1946 they were paid somewhere between $94,00 and $120,000 (which today would be somewhere between $988,33 to $1,261,703). Then in 1975 WB agreed to pay each man $20,000 a year for the rest of their lives (Shuster lived until 1992 and Seigel lived until 1996, and in 1975 $20, 000 was worth $76,000 today). So while I’m not sure if I can really say they were paid their fair share, it’s not like they never got anything for creating Superman.

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