On Its Birthday, Superman Returns to Papa
Right before the Man of Steel celebrates its 70th birthday, a federal court judge has ruled (.pdf) that the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerome Siegel could claim an ownership share of the character’s domestic copyright. The ruling vests in Siegel’s heirs ownership in the first Superman comic, Detective Comics’ Action Comics No. 1.
Wikipedia has informative biographies for Siegel and his partner, Joseph Shuster, while William Patry (whose work the opinion cites 14 times) provides additional analysis and insight. The case centered on whether Siegel’s estate successfully had terminated the copyright pursuant to Section 304(c).
Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to the comic 70 years ago for $130 (or $14814.32 in today’s money). In comparison, Warner Bros. collected more than $200 million in domestic box office for the 2006 film Superman Returns. This total excludes ancillary (and lucrative) licensing income from all manner of tchotchkes from T-shirts to lunch boxes.
What immediately struck us was the diligence of Siegel’s estate in pursuing this issue. We compare this to the untidy, legally chaotic, and “deplorable” condition of the James Brown estate, which owes $400,000 in taxes and needs to sell memorabilia to preserve its assets.
Michael Cieply. Ruling Gives Heirs a Share of Superman Copyright. The New York Times. March 29, 2008.
Joy Howe. James Brown’s Estate To Be Sold. WJBF-TV (Augusta, Ga.) Feb. 29, 2008.
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