Superman Ownership Fight (Mostly) Settled: DC Wins

Superman Ownership Fight (Mostly) Settled: DC Wins

Action Comics #1 9.0 CGC

Shocker: DC Comics owns Superman.

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court made decisions on which cases it would agree to hear during its just-started session. The big news, of course, is that the court opted not to hear arguments in any of the cases involving same sex marriage, which means gay unions are now officially legal in 5 more states. But obscured by that awesome turn of events is the court's decision to deny a petition by the Joe Shuster Estate, securing DC's ownership of Superman for the rest of the copyright's life.

Joe Shuster, of course, is one half of the duo that created Superman in 1938. The legal battle here centered on a 1992 deal between his estate and DC comics, reached one year after Shuster's death. DC paid out more than $600,000, covered Shuster's remaining personal debts, and granted his sister and brother a yearly pension of $25,000, in exchange for the family giving up all claims to the Superman copyright. However, Shuster's nephew, Mark Peary, took issue with the deal, and in 2003 he filed a copyright termination notice in accordance with the 1976 copyright act.

After years of winding through courts, last year the ninth circuit court of appeals declined to give the Shusters a full hearing, asserting instead that the deal reached in 1992 voided any further claims the family might have. In June of this year, the Shusters filed a petition with SCOTUS, and by declining to consider that petition, the Supreme Court has effectively agreed with the lower courts on the matter.

If all of this sounds familiar, it should, as the Jack Kirby estate attempted the same thing with regard to copyrights owned by Marvel. And like the Shuster family, the Kirbys repeatedly lost in court after court. The difference between the two groups, however, is twofold. First, Kirby's family changed their tactics slightly earlier this year, arguing in their recently rescinded petition to the Supreme Court that the issue at stake was that Kirby was, ultimately, wrongly classified as a worker for hire. And second, the Kirby family never reached any kind of deal with Marvel comics prior to initiating legal proceedings.

These reasons might be why Marvel opted to settle with the Kirby estate for an undisclosed, but surely enormous sum. Clearly, Marvel had reasons to believe that that Kirby estate's case might have had merit. DC, on the other hand, could simply point to the deal it had reached two decades earlier. The company had already settled with the Shusters.

This doesn't completely bring DC's potential woes to an end, of course. There is a related case involving the Jerry Siegel estate's claims to Superman (though that case is likely to end in the same way.) Additionally, in 2014, the surviving family of Batman co-creator Bill Finger have dramatically increased their efforts to achieve official recognition for his work. In May, Finger's granddaughter hinted at legal action in a press release that said, in part, "I am currently exploring our rights and considering how best to establish the recognition that my grandfather deserves."

Source: Comic Book Resources

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I'd apparently never make it in business because if I had the money these guys apparently do right now, I'd have no problem supporting the families of some of my best creators as long as they didn't get too greedy. In part because it strikes me as being right if I'm making that much off the work, but also because I figure it would encourage other people to work for, and create stuff for, me.

I don't know, if I was DC right now I've consider giving the estate a couple of million even if I don't have to. It's good press, a good example, and at the end of the day leveraging the problems that family apparently had for Superman of all things (looking at the ongoing value of that IP) is kind of shady. It's worth a lot more than what was paid.

Of course nobody seems to do anything nice nowadays unless they are forced to, it seems, which means it's not really nice, which is part of why I'm who I am.

Therumancer:
I'd apparently never make it in business because if I had the money these guys apparently do right now, I'd have no problem supporting the families of some of my best creators as long as they didn't get too greedy. In part because it strikes me as being right if I'm making that much off the work, but also because I figure it would encourage other people to work for, and create stuff for, me.

I don't know, if I was DC right now I've consider giving the estate a couple of million even if I don't have to. It's good press, a good example, and at the end of the day leveraging the problems that family apparently had for Superman of all things (looking at the ongoing value of that IP) is kind of shady. It's worth a lot more than what was paid.

Of course nobody seems to do anything nice nowadays unless they are forced to, it seems, which means it's not really nice, which is part of why I'm who I am.

Problem is, they're not legally required to do so. See. if you hire a song writer to write a song for you.. he is entitled to recognition and his payment for the task of writing the song. He is however not entitled to any royalties from the song. That's simple law. Problem is many of these guys never thought their creations would be big or that's they'd be billion dollar icons so most never paid attention to the contractual errata back then. Most... ask the estarte of Wonder Woman's creators how they made out...much better.

Not only are they getting better royalties but in addition they are the reason wonder woman has never been out of print. There is a clause in the contract that if the comic goes out of print the character and related materials revert back to the estate.

It is one of those sad things really...To be fair DC themselves never really thought superman would pan out that well.....but here we are...

BigTuk:

Therumancer:
I'd apparently never make it in business because if I had the money these guys apparently do right now, I'd have no problem supporting the families of some of my best creators as long as they didn't get too greedy. In part because it strikes me as being right if I'm making that much off the work, but also because I figure it would encourage other people to work for, and create stuff for, me.

I don't know, if I was DC right now I've consider giving the estate a couple of million even if I don't have to. It's good press, a good example, and at the end of the day leveraging the problems that family apparently had for Superman of all things (looking at the ongoing value of that IP) is kind of shady. It's worth a lot more than what was paid.

Of course nobody seems to do anything nice nowadays unless they are forced to, it seems, which means it's not really nice, which is part of why I'm who I am.

Problem is, they're not legally required to do so. See. if you hire a song writer to write a song for you.. he is entitled to recognition and his payment for the task of writing the song. He is however not entitled to any royalties from the song. That's simple law. Problem is many of these guys never thought their creations would be big or that's they'd be billion dollar icons so most never paid attention to the contractual errata back then. Most... ask the estarte of Wonder Woman's creators how they made out...much better.

Not only are they getting better royalties but in addition they are the reason wonder woman has never been out of print. There is a clause in the contract that if the comic goes out of print the character and related materials revert back to the estate.

It is one of those sad things really...To be fair DC themselves never really thought superman would pan out that well.....but here we are...

It's actually a little more complicated than that. If the songwriter doesn't sign a contract giving away his rights to the person asking for it, he'd retain ownership. So if you wrote a song on a lark for someone, then years later they made a mint off it, but never had that as part of the contract, you could get royalties if you challenged. Theoretically. Comic creators in olden times worked under extremely vague contracts that were interpreted to screw them over but were legally suspect. This is why, for instance, Marvel had all its freelancers sign new contracts in the late 60s expressly giving away their ownership of creations, and why the 1976 Copyright Act happened. Clarification was needed, and for stuff created before that year, is sometimes still needed.

Look, after what DC has done with the guy, do you REALLY want him back?

Good. I really struggle to find any sympathy for people who want paying for the work someone else did the better part of a century ago. Shuster got screwed over and definitely deserved more than he got while he was alive. His nephew deserves absolutely fuck all. If he wants money, he can fucking well work for it.

Therumancer:
I'd apparently never make it in business because if I had the money these guys apparently do right now, I'd have no problem supporting the families of some of my best creators as long as they didn't get too greedy.

As far as I can tell DC have done exactly that. $600,000 plus a decent yearly payment to both of his closest living relatives may not be the most DC could possibly afford, but it can hardly be called unreasonable considering, again, that no-one involved actually did any of the work in question. The issue here is that one fairly distant relative absolutely is getting too greedy, and has therefore quite rightly been told exactly where he can stick it.

I would be more caring if it was actually the creators themselves arguing for these court settlements and not their children, grand children, nieces, and nephews. My care about someone's creative rights and their estates tends to rapidly turn into vapor at about the point that they are dead. It is that simple. The people who actually put in the real work are gone, their relatives don't get a say in jack.

I'd call this good news, in a way. Hell, I wish one of my relatives had created a massively successful franchise so that I could rake-in a good 25k a year without needing to lift a single finger. Sure it isn't as much as DC pulls in from the franchise, but we're still talking more money than some people pull-in with two jobs these days, for something they didn't even have a hand in, and they can earn it by sitting around playing Xbox all day and night. Their lives are basically set, and they're crying because they can't have more. Fuck 'em.

Blaine Houle:
I would be more caring if it was actually the creators themselves arguing for these court settlements and not their children, grand children, nieces, and nephews. My care about someone's creative rights and their estates tends to rapidly turn into vapor at about the point that they are dead. It is that simple. The people who actually put in the real work are gone, their relatives don't get a say in jack.

Took the words right out of my mouth, anyone even tangentially connected to this screwing over within DC is long gone, so basically they're forcing new people to pay out money to others that haven't done anything for something that happened a long time ago. It seems ludicrous. I understand the writers needed to get proper recognition for their work, but after they're dead not much can be done in terms of compensation.

RossaLincoln:
Additionally, in 2014, the surviving family of Batman co-creator Bill Finger have dramatically increased their efforts to achieve official recognition for his work. In May, Finger's granddaughter hinted at legal action in a press release that said, in part, "I am currently exploring our rights and considering how best to establish the recognition that my grandfather deserves."

It's worth noting that in the case of Bill Finger, he has been largely denied credit for his part in creating Batman. When his granddaughter was originally made that statement, it was in response to a DC exec's careless comment and the fact that Bob Kane is the only person DC ever credits for the character. Mentioning Finger without that context just makes it seem like his granddaughter is just another person looking for a handout, especially since I don't recall her ever mentioning money.

That said, I have a friend who was very close to the siegel/shuster situation and their efforts to preserve the house where superman was created. She would probably have all kinds of mean things to say regarding this, and I can't really comment because I probably have a bias about it along the lines of these comic artists were continually taken advantage of and any deals made were always in bad faith on the part of DC.

The early comics business was corrupt and out of order. Artists and writers were exploited, and created the work they did out of love for the craft.

However, it's not the responsibility of the industry today to reimburse the relatives of yesterday. What happened back then was wrong, but legal.

 

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