The Los Angeles Times (via Unleash the Fanboy!) is reporting that the recent judgment in favor of Warner Bros and DC Comics in the ongoing fight for the rights to certain aspects of the Superman mythos might help speed along the long-rumored Justice League movie.
Whew! I guess we can all breath easier, huh? Justice served, and all that? The good guys won, and we can enjoy seeing real live human actors portray the characters we’ve long enjoyed as drawings in comics and in animated films. Hooray. From the story:
Had Warner lost its case against the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, it would not have been able to make “Justice League” or any other movies, television shows or comics featuring key elements of the Man of Steel’s mythos after 2013 unless it reached a new agreement with the estates of Shuster and co-creator Jerry Siegel.
That uncertainty made it difficult for Warner to move ahead with “Justice League,” which the studio’s motion pictures group president, Jeff Robinov, has long wanted to make as a pillar of its big-screen superhero strategy.
I don’t know about you, but I was feeling a lot of pity for the poor megaconglomerate Warner Bros, thinking that they might have to actually give a few extra bucks to the heirs of the two men who created one of the most important pop culture characters of the 20th century, so that they can make billions more dollars off that character.
And when I say “character,” I of course mean “piece of intellectual property.”
Warner Bros’s behavior throughout the case has been, let’s say, questionable.
My family’s David and Goliath struggle against Warner Bros, the media conglomerate, goes back to April 1997, when my mom and I exercised our clear right under the Copyright Act to achieve my dad’s dream of recovering his copyrights. In April 1999, my dad’s half of the original Superman rights reverted to us, entitling our family to a significant share of Superman profits, which Warner/DC Comics refused to pay. For over thirteen years they have fought us at every turn, in and out of court, aiming to make recovery of the money they owe us so impossibly difficult that we would give up and settle for peanuts.
We refused to be intimidated despite my elderly mom’s heart condition and my multiple sclerosis. In 2008 the U.S. District Court ruled that my mom and I had successfully recaptured my father’s Superman copyrights and were entitled to Superman profits since April 1999.
But, hey, we get to see our Justice League movie now! Hooray.
Amusingly, in smacking down Shuster’s heirs, the judge in the case, Otis “Always” Wright, noted that two of Shuster’s heirs signed an agreement terminating their rights to the Superman copyright:
Wright wrote that the 1992 agreement “unmistakably operates to supersede all prior grants” and that Peavy and her brother Frank “were aware of the Copyright Act’s termination rights when they bargained for and entered into the 1992 agreement.”
“By taking advantage of this opportunity, she exhausted the single opportunity provided by statute to the Shuster heirs to revisit the terms of Shuster’s original grants of his copyrights,” Wright wrote.
Wright noted that when he was alive, Shuster never terminated his copyright, and the “heirs essentially struck a deal that binds all other heirs.” He noted that the Copyright Act provides only for a termination of a copyright grant made before Jan. 1, 1978, and the 1992 agreement superseded it. Jean Peavy’s son, Mark Peary, as executor of the estate, served a termination notice on DC in 2003 for the early Superman works from the late 1930s.
You see, Agreements are important, and we have to abide by them. And by “we,” I mean people who can’t afford to spend $35 million dragging out a court case for years and years and years. And can’t afford to lobby Congress to make changes to the law to ensure that they don’t “lose” the “rights” to their intellectual property.
With many priceless catalogues on the brink of falling into the public domain–for example, animated features of Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh and the music of George Gershwin–copyright owners such as Disney and Time-Warner petitioned for 20 more years of copyright protection. The result was enactment of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, which extends the time period during which copyrighted works are protected. Extending copyright protection harmonizes our laws with European countries where copyright owners already enjoy longer protection.
Yes, Agreements are important. Good for Wright for recognizing this, and putting a stop to the nefarious attempts by the greedy heirs of the original creators, who were being so unfair to the megaconglomerate Warner Bros. They had so little recourse through this entire “struggle.”
Yes, that’s the word that IGN used in their description of the legal fight between Warner Bros and Joe Shuster’s heirs. “Struggle.” And the commenters over at IGN showed real sympathy for… the corporation that “owns” the Superman intellectual property:
It’s strange that I continue to root for the big business in this case. It seems that Shusters heirs are being at least moderately well taken care of, despite only being connected to the property tangentially. Creators should reap the rewards of their creations, their sisters and nephews after their deaths… I’m not so sure. haha
Yeah, plus, it’s not creator owned either, so why would they gain full rights if the two creators did it under DC? Secondly, what would the family even do with the rights? Get a publishing deal and basically make one of the big dogs do all of the work anyways, seeing as it would be way too much money for them to try and set up their own company just to release Superman comics and merchandise on their own. It all just equals more money for them and no actual benefit to the fans, that is why I root against them.
I have to say the family is stupid because whatever debt you had….you file for bankruptcy before you even tell Warner Bros to pay you 25k a year for life in return for giving back the RIGHTS to SUPERMAN!
Silly Morons, indeed. Don’t they even know that a deal is a deal?
In a strategic move in the copyright battle between Warner Bros and the heirs to Superman’s creators, the studio has filed an appeal to reverse earlier rulings in the case and put everything out in open court in a trial.
“This case is about the ownership of copyright in the earliest comics that introduced elements of the iconic Superman character and story,” the appeal from Warners lawyer Daniel Petrocelli states. “The case presents an unusually broad array of doctrinal, factual, and procedural issues. But much of the case reduces to a familiar proposition: a deal is a deal.”
Warners contends that Laura Siegel Larson, the heir to the Siegel estate, “reneged” on a copyright deal with DC that “guaranteed the family many millions of dollars in cash, royalties, and other compensation.” In its call to have the issue decided by trial, the studio says “the family asserted there was no deal without a long form and the district court agreed, casting aside established California contract law principles — principles essential to the entertainment industry, where many business deals are never formalized.”
See? A deal is a deal. Except that, in the entertainment industry, many business deals are never formalized. It really couldn’t be more clear. Which is why the judge in this case had to rule the way he did. Because those “agreements” are so important.
Siegel and Shuster actually commented on this ongoing legal “struggle” in an astonishing story that originally appeared in the 14th issue of Superman’s self-titled book, featuring an unscrupulous businessman who cheats an inventor out of the fruits of his labor. The opening panel gives an overview:
Siegel and Shuster, the “impractical dreamers,” signed that infamous $130 check four years before this story was published, and the fruits of their labors were annexed by Detective/National Comics. So they used their character to get revenge on those unscrupulous schemers, just as they’d used him to get revenge on slumlords, war profiteers, gangsters, and coal mine owners.
Siegel and Shuster’s MarySue is an inventor called Chet Farnsworth, who has created “a powder which would almost instantly extinguish flames.” Clark “Superman” Kent intends to introduce Mr. Farnsworth to an honest businessman who might help him, but the impetuous Farnsworth has already signed with an “unscrupulous schemer” called Jim Baldwin.
Darkly, Clark Kent hopes — for his sake — that he gives Farnsworth a square deal.
But he doesn’t.
These might be the most amazing five panels ever to appear in a mainstream superhero comic book. The creator of the most popular superhero figure in the world is openly protesting the treatment that he and his partner are receiving at the hands of people who own his creation. And he got them to publish this pulp cri de coeur for him.
But, as bleak as things get in this story, Siegel and Shuster’s Superman sets everything right:
Things didn’t work out quite as well for Siegel and Shuster.
Jerry Siegel and his family were broke, their economic status had gotten so bad that Siegels wife Joanne, visited Jack Liebowitz at DC and told them how bad things were. She asked him “Do you really want to see in the newspaper-Creator of Superman Starves to Death?” Jack Liebowitz did not, so DC gave Siegel some writing assignments in 1958. At a price, Jerry would receive no credit or special privileges for his work. But sometime in 1964 Jerry made a comment about wanting to be treated better, and he was immediately fired for it.
In the late 60′s and early 70′s Siegel and Shuster were once again the focus of public attention through comic conventions. They would then go back into court in 1975 for another attempt to sue DC for the rights to Superman. The court decided that the two were not owed any money, but DC did decide to pay the two a “pension” of sorts. They received $35,000 a year for the rest of their lives. Jerry and Joe also got credit for their Superman creation. They got this with the help of then DC Publisher/Editor in Chief Carmine Infantino and many other big name creative people, who persuaded DC to give the creators something. While DC didn’t have to pay anything, it is still a small sum considering the 10′s or possibly 100′s millions that DC made off of Superman in movie, cartoons, comics, and merchandise deals. DC also made Superman related money from copyright infringement lawsuits against other companies, the most famous of these was their out of court settlement with Fawcett Comics.
Sadly, both these creators have passed away. Joe Shuster died in 1992 just before his 78th birthday. DC did not recognize his passing.
But isn’t it great that Warner Bros can proceed with a Justice League movie? I mean, that’s really the important thing. That we get to see these noble, iconic characters on the big screen.