Friday, March 28, 2008

What Does This Mean For Superman? No-For Comics?


n what may shape up to be a historic ruling, a judge on Wednesday awarded Jerry Siegel’s heirs the copyright to the Superman material in Action Comics #1.

As Jeff Trexler points out, Judge Stephen Larson’s 71 1/2-page opinion doesn’t resolve all the issues — the separate Superboy case, division of profits, etc. — but it does seem to put an end, of sorts, to a decades-long feud. (The decision is certain to be appealed by Time Warner.)

“After seventy years,” Larson writes in his concluding paragraph, “Jerome Siegel’s heirs regain what he granted so long ago — the copyright in the Superman material that was published in Action Comics Vol. 1. What remains is an apportionment of profits, guided in some measure by the rulings contained in this Order, and a trial on whether to include the profits generated by DC Comics’ corporate sibling’s exploitation of the Superman copyright.”

Trexler also points to an analysis of the decision by William Patry, Google’s senior copyright counsel, which provides some context: “The opinion doesn’t cover Schuster’s interests, which are not subject to Section 304(c) termination, but rather a future 304(d) termination. Nor does the opinion reach the work for hire question for anything after the (justly famous and important) Action Comics Vol. 1 published on April 18, 1938 – the collateral estoppel applied on work for hire only covers Action Comics Vol. 1. Finally, there are very thorny issues of apportionment. All of these issues are likely to be the subject of subsequent motions and possibly trial.”

Expect more coverage over the weekend.

Update: The New York Times weighs in with reaction quotes from Siegel estate attorney Marc Toberoff, Joanne Siegel and Laura Siegel Larson. The Times notes that while the decision leaves intact Time Warner’s international rights to Superman, it may open the door to a similar reversion of copyright to the estate of Joe Shuster in 2013.

“After 2013, Time Warner couldn’t exploit any new Superman-derived works without a licence from the Siegels and Shusters,” said Toberoff, who also represents the Shuster estate.

Okay-yay for creator rights! Lets get that out of the way. Now lets look at this from the standpoint of the normal comic fan who can't understand legalities of such a ruling: what happens to Superman? Now with the possibility of this being held up(someones going to appeal, and a different judge might make a different ruling) does this mean that the original creators can regain the copyrights on the previous issues they worked on? And if that is true, what about Superman stories where only one worked on it. For example, a DC hired artist working with Jerry Siegel, does DC own only part of that?

Of course even if the estates of both creators get the copyrights on "their issues" and are paid back royalties what problems can this lead too? First of all, they won't be able to market Superman because they don't own the trademark. Nor do they own the trademark on Action Comics or Man of Steel. not to mention the look, the logo, everything about Superman is owned by DC. Copyright simply covers the story and the art. So, what would the estates do? They can't sell Superman in a way to make money because how do you market a character at another company when the distinction of the character is owned by the other? Especially if they go after complete copyright ownership of the character and all existing work despite the original creators not being involved.

Now, if they decide to go after the trademark, wow... that would be amazing if the one. And I also would see the long awaited comic book crash. Think about it, DC loses their icon-Time Warner has to pay, possibly, millions in back royalties. Would Time Warner just cut DC comics in this situation? Could DC survive without that backbone? Maybe but they would take a hit. Lets be honest, if comics #2 company had to start cutting jobs and back material publish comics it would be bad. How many comic buyers only buy, or purchase a majority, of DC books? Seeing as there's an 18-20% difference between DC and the third largest publisher-quite a lot.

I'm looking at this too hard. I'm sure something will come along and things will work. Or Time Warner will win an appeals and these legal battles will continue for ages to come.

Hmmm... just though of something, even if the estates win-they won't have the power to keep Superman out of public domain. Where as DC Comics/Time Warner could make an argument to get the copyright extended. I mean-if hospital that owns the rights to Peter Pan and uses royalties to fund themselves can't keep pan out of public domain then how can the estates of Siegel and Shuster?

I'm over thinking this.

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