The Time Warner Corporation just got a partner in the ownership of Superman. To explain the whole deal is RevolutionSF comics editor Jay Willson and news editor Joe Crowe.
A federal judge In Los Angeles Wednesday ruled that the wife and daughter of Jerry Siegel, who 70 years ago created the character of Superman with Joe Shuster in Action #1, were entitled to claim a share of the U.S. copyright of the character.
The big question now will be how much in the way of back profits Time Warner may owe the Siegel heirs for use of the character, as they can now claim the partial ownership since 1999, when their ownership was restored.
There are also questions regarding money that would come directly from Time Warner’s film studio, Warner Brothers, which took in reasonable profits with their Superman Returns in 2006. This ruling could create issue with Warner’s plans for the Justice League of America movie, which features Superman, as well as any possible sequels to Returns, and even future cartoons planned by DC involving Superman.
If the ruling survives a Time Warner legal challenge, which will undoubtedly be the next part of the story, it may open the door to a similar reversion of rights to the estate of Mr. Shuster in 2013. That would give heirs of the two creators control over use of their lucrative character until at least 2033.
And perhaps longer, if Congress once again extends copyright terms, according to a lawyer who represents the creators' estates.
Potentially, because of the possible revision of rights to the Shuster estate that is up in 2013, Time Warner and DC would then have to license the use of Superman from the Siegels and Shusters.
Obviously, as with any major ruling such as this, appeals will follow and the landscape could change dramatically again in upcoming years. Nonetheless, this is a major announcement regarding the future of the most famous character in the history of comics. It will be interesting to see where this entire situation goes from here. -- Jay Willson
There's a very good FAQ about the situation at the blog Comics Should Be Good (link thanks to Geek Curmudgeon).
What this all means is, DC got a bargain but no one knew it back in 1938, and Superman started a cultural thing that no one paid its originators for. There is no way this means Superman goes away; clearer heads with control of checkbooks should prevail long before.
But how did it get to this point? Corporate slap-assedness. Creative people deserve money. corporate people have money. But no one wants to get together.
This is a Lois-loves-Superman impossible daydream: it can't work out. Creators should be allowed to be creative, and when they are, they shouldn't have to force people to pay them. This goes for every creator, including actors and singers, who decades ago created brilliant things and terrible things, but never got a fraction of what a 19-year-old basketball player gets for dribbling. -- Joe Crowe