Warner Bros. and DC Comics have lost a little more control over the Man of Steel.
In an ongoing Federal court battle over Superman, Judge Stephen Larson ruled Wednesday that the family of the superhero’s co-creator, Jerry Siegel, has “successfully recaptured” rights to additional works, including the first two weeks of the daily Superman newspaper comic-strips, as well as portions of early Action Comics and Superman comic-books.
The ruling is based on the court’s finding that these were not “works-made-for-hire” under the Copyright Act.
This means the Siegels — repped by Marc Toberoff of Toberoff & Associates — now control depictions of Superman’s origins from the planet Krypton, his parents Jor-El and Lora, Superman as the infant Kal-El, the launching of the infant Superman into space by his parents as Krypton explodes and his landing on Earth in a fiery crash.
The first Superman story was published in 1938 in Action Comics No. 1. For $130, Jerry Siegel and co-creator Joel Shuster signed a release in favor of DC’s predecessor, Detective Comics, and a 1974 court decision ruled they signed away their copyrights forever.
In 2008, the same court order ruled on summary judgment that the Siegels had successfully recaptured (as of 1999) Siegel’s copyright in Action Comics No. 1, giving them rights to the Superman character, including his costume, his alter-ego as reporter Clark Kent, the feisty reporter Lois Lane, their jobs at the Daily Planet newspaper working for a gruff editor, and the love triangle among Clark/Superman and Lois.
While ownership of the Man of Steel is one point of all this legal activity, the real issue is money and how much Warner Bros. and DC owe the Siegels from profits they collected from Superman since 1999, when the heirs’ recapture of Siegel’s copyright became effective.
DC owns other elements like Superman’s ability to fly, the term kryptonite, the Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen characters, Superman’s powers and expanded origins.
In a statement, Warner Bros. and DC said, “Warner and DC Comics are pleased that the court has affirmed that the vast majority of key elements associated with the Superman character that were developed after Action Comics No. 1 are not part of the copyrights that the plaintiffs have recaptured and therefore remain solely owned by DC Comics.”
The Shuster estate originally did not participate with the Siegels’ case because Shuster has no spouse or children. But his estate later won a ruling of a recapture identical to the Siegels, which will be effective in 2013. At that point, the Siegels and Shusters will own the entire copyright to Action Comics No. 1. That will give them the chance to set up Superman pics, TV shows and other projects at another studio.
If they want to get a new “Superman” or even “Justice League” pic featuring the superhero, Warner Bros. and DC will be forced to go into production by 2011.