In a stunning decision, the heirs of Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, have been granted the copyright to Action Comics Vol. 1. Jeff Trexler has more links and details. The concluding paragraph of the court decision is worth quoting in it’s entirety.
After seventy years, 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.
While many details of the decision remain to be worked out, including the fate of Superboy, this at long last rights one of the greatest injustices in the history of comics, whereby the creators of the tentpole character of the superhero genre sold all rights away for $300$130.
Breaking. We’ll have more details and analysis later.
More: Jeff Trexler has a FAQ with lotes more background:
Q: Do the Siegels have creative control over Superman comics?
A: No. The court explains, quoting an earlier case, that “each co-owner has an independent right to use or license the use of the copyright. . . . A co-owner of a copyright must account to other co-owners for any profits he earns from licensing or use of the copyright.” (p. 66) However, if the Shuster heirs regain copyright in a few years, then the future of Superman comics gets rather complicated, since all domestic copyright in the Action Comics #1 material & its derivative works will vest in the two families.
Q: What about Superboy?
A: That’s a separate case, although procedurally it is consolidated with the Superman case for discovery and pre-trial purposes. The question of the Siegels’ rights to Superboy is as of yet unresolved.
Compensation to the Siegels would be limited to any work created after their 1999 termination date. Income from the 1978 “Superman” film, or the three sequels that followed in the 1980s, are not at issue. But a “Superman Returns” sequel being planned with the filmmaker Bryan Singer (who has also directed “The Usual Suspects” and “X-Men”) might require payments to the Siegels, should they prevail in a demand that the studio’s income, not just that of the comics unit, be subject to a court-ordered accounting.
Mrs. Siegel and Ms. Larson said it was too soon to make future plans for the Superman character. But they were inclined to relish this moment.
UPDATE Saturday: Nikki Finke has some interesting things to say
For instance, Joanne Siegel (who’d been the sketch model for Lois Lane) wrote a 3-page letter back in 2002 to then Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons calling the company “greedy” and “heartless” and acting “just like the Gestapo … your company wants to strip us naked of our legal rights… Is that the reputation you want?” The answer is a resounding yes. Because for years Warner tied with Disney for its aggressive unwillingness to settle these kinds of legal disputes and its absurd eagerness to risk going to court. Its corporate counsel would hire litigation piranhas hungry for billable hours who pledge to make each case go away by exhausting the patience and resources of the creators or rightsholders. It’s a thoroughly effective but completely disgusting way of doing business.