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.

Also: the New York Times analyses the ruling::

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.


  1. Sooo…what does this mean for DC currently publishing Superman books? (I have almost no knowledge of legal stuff.)

  2. I was about to post an “April 1 seems to come earlier every year” comment, but this appears to be real.

    Holy f*ck.

  3. I am curious whether Time Warner will sell off the DC arm out of fear of future lawsuits from other Golden Age creator families. This lawsuit sets an interesting precedent.

  4. The aftermath of this decision will have lasting effects on the comic book industry. This is very interesting indeed.

  5. This is an amazing story! I wouldn’t have thought it was possible at this point in time. Although, Joe Simon’s re-negotiation over Captain America certainly suggests that this was possible. Now we have two similar legal results on early, major characters.

  6. Torsten: This doesn’t have any direct impact on anything except this particular case. The Siegel family exercised a little-known provision in a 1976 copyright law that extended the duration of copyrights, to let the original owners reclaim the rights if they filed for it at the appropriate time, after the original copyright would have expired. The Seigels did. As I understand it, there wasn’t anyone in the Shuster family who was eligible, which is why that half of the rights are still in DC’s hands. The idea is that when DC bought the character, they thought they were only going to get exclusive rights for 56 years (the maximum copyright term in those days), so why not let the original creator have them back at that point?

    But it doesn’t mean that Golden Age characters in general are going to start changing ownership. For one thing, it doesn’t apply to characters created as Work For Hire. JS&JS created Superman as free agents then sold him to DC, which is different from any character created by an employee of the publisher. Those will remain the property of the publisher until Congress stops extending copyright terms.

  7. “I only wish Jerry were alive to see this.”

    i wish Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Martin Goodman, and every other crooked SOB who ripped off desperate cartoonists only to launch companies who would go on to make billions on the backs of men who died poor were alive to see this

  8. DC’s lost half the US copyright – Seigel’s share – not the whole thing. Yet – come 2013, they may very well lose the rest.

  9. People, please don’t make crazy comments about the future of DC. As you can see from both the NY Times story and Jeff Trexler’s analysis, DC still retains half the rights to Superman, at least until 2013.

  10. And DC retains the trademarks.

    DC is fine, the heirs will get a very nice payday and the world will go on as before.

    With perhaps a bit more hope for a few creators out there in their retirement.

  11. Amazing. On the one hand I applaud the decision, on the other hand it reminds me how much I hate that our copyright laws keep getting extended beyond what was originally a way to make sure the CREATOR of a work of art was able to profit from their own creation. And yeah, the Action #1 case is a bit different from other Golden Age characters as Superman was already created and the story done before it was sold to National. So, how much of this decision only applies to this one case? Because from what is here I think Dan DeCarlo and Marv Wolfman have some new ammo…

  12. “Yet – come 2013, they may very well lose the rest.”

    Well, yes and no. Realistically, what are the Siegel and Shuster families going to DO with the rights to Superman? Open a new publishing company? Auction them to Marvel (without access to characters like Lex Luthor, who were created later on)? Without access to the international rights or the trademark?

    It seems to me that by far the most likely outcome is that the families negotiate a new deal with DC, where DC keep the character but pay the families more for its use.

  13. The Court’s ruling is required reading, and very well written.
    two big questions remain: trademark and licensing fees. licensees do not have to report to the coowner, but because DC licensed media rights to Warner Brothers Entertainment, there may have been a sweetheart deal. everything after april 1999 is accountable.
    the spectre is also subject to this same contract, although the work-for-hire argument is stronger.
    DC would be smart to create a co-ownership relationship with the Siegel estate, and gain some goodwill. Although a little bit different, they have some experience, in regards to Bob Kane and William Marston.
    ironically, it was the Bono Act which helped the Siegel’s case.

  14. I very firmly believe that Superman should be in the public domain. It’s very important for all of us that iconic works like this that resonate so strongly with our society enter the public domain, so that artists can examine them in their work and utilize their strong symbolic power to comment on our society and push it to grow.

    However, barring that, having the copyright under the control of the family of the creators is the next best thing.

  15. Can DC Comics survive without publishing Superman comics? I think so, but it will take a big chunk out of their pocketbook. I believe the licensing and merchandising arm of DC/Time Warner will take the biggest hit by losing millions of dollars of revenue from Superman products made by hundreds of manufacturers. That’s where the big money is being made, not from publishing comic books. (Did the Spider-Man comics create a windfall of revenue or the countless products with Spidey’s face plastered on them?) I still think litigation will continue with appeals by DC. Probably taking this all the way to the supreme court. This battle isn’t over yet by a long shot!

  16. Torsten said:

    “DC would be smart to create a co-ownership relationship with the Siegel estate, and gain some goodwill.”

    That would be the smart thing, but I don’t think it can be done. The Siegel’s have the rights to Superboy, so DC stopped using Superboy. I would expect that Warners will tell DC to now stop using Superman. Without the money that the Superman licensing brings in, there is no way for DC to survive, as their profits will be too small to be bothered with.

  17. Sorry that my coverage of the biggest story of the year has been so sloppy and sporadic, but personal affairs mean I cannot spend much time online.

    I doubt that WB will stop using Superman. Some sort of licensing deal would be much more likely. Only my opinion, of course.

  18. I’d have so much more respect for DC and their corporate overlords if, instead of dragging this through every appeal court they can, they sent Paul Levitz and a couple of lawyers to hash out a deal where DC gave ownership back to the Siegel and Shuster estates but leased the character in perpetuity, with the two families receiving fair royalties.

  19. why do folks like alan coil get to write whatever inflammatory shit they want to? oh, that’s right, it’s the internet—where any jackass with a keyboard can type something.

    i know about as much as alan does about DC’s corporate financing, but this is not going to be the end of anything—no matter how much haters like alan wish it so..

  20. “I believe the licensing and merchandising arm of DC/Time Warner will take the biggest hit by losing millions of dollars of revenue from Superman products made by hundreds of manufacturers.”

    No, things like a single iconic image of Superman, the name “Superman” itself, and the “S” shield logo are covered by the trademark law, not copyright. Even if DC loses the copyright, the trademark is likely to stay with DC.

    “What exactly happens in 2013? Does each character go into public domain as its deadline passes?”

    No, Shuster’s nephew will get to reclaim the other half of the copyright, so DC will have no ownership stake in the copyright.

    What’s ironic is that, in the long term, it may be better for DC to let the Siegels and the Shusters have the Superman copyright. According to the current copyright law, if DC remains the copyright owner, Superman will enter public domain in 2033 (1938 plus 95 years). But if the Siegels and the Shusters reclaim the copyright and they enter into a licensing deal with DC, then DC can continue to use Superman until 2066 (Siegel passed away in 1996, plus 70 years). True, they will have to pay licensing fees to the estates, but that will be a fraction of what they can make during the 30 plus years of extra usage.

  21. Something just occurred to me if there is a big payout to the Seigles don’t be surprised to see DC comics hit a $3.25 cover price. You know Time Warner isn’t going to take the hit alone.

  22. Is bad of me to worry about the future of one of my favorite characters? I mean the DCU without Superman is not cool with me. His heirs get a big payday and we who have created that payday for them with our support and love of the book are left with Superman comics till 2013, Then the heirs sell him to Marvel and he joins the avengers?

    I know this is a great thing for his family, but I can see many scenarios where we loose out.

  23. :rollseyes:

    Don’t worry you “me-first, I’m entitled to entertainment above all else” fans. Your precious, precious Superman comic books aren’t going to change. They will still be there next month, same as always.

  24. Disregard what I wrote above about the copyright terms. Brian Cronin at Comics Should Be Good reminded me that any copyright prior to the changes made to the law only gets 20 year extension, so Superman would enter the public domain in 2033 regardless of who owns the copyright.

  25. I don’t understand why some people are so snide over another individual’s love for something. Why mock someone’s concern over what makes them happy? Please, show some respect to others.

    Solid debate and observations I expect here. Ridiculing others, I do not.

    My 2¢

  26. What a joke. There’s not a Siegel or Shuster alive today that had a darn thing to do with Superman, and they don’t deserve a d**n thing. Oh look, more people wanting SOMETHING for NOTHING as it relates to work they never did. If that’s not the American way, I don’t know what is. I hope Warner and DC appeal this baby till the end, and send those freeloading leeches back to wherever they came from.

  27. Dear Moderator,

    I am working on behalf of Hutchison CP Telecommunications Indonesia. a GSM provider under the brand 3 (Three). We would like to seek for approval and license to use the association of Superman into our latest Starterpacks. The name will be SuperTri (SuperThree) and we plan to use a similar logo of Superman. Where can seek for approval and who to contact for this license approval ? Pls help to assist .


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