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Heirs to Jerry Siegel Regain Rights to Superman

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Article reprinted from Comicon.com:

August 31, 1999:  In a scoop set to rock the very foundations of one of the largest comic book publishers in America, Matt Brady is reporting on AnotherUniverse.com that Jerry Siegelís wife and daughter have succeeded in regaining his portion of the copyright to SUPERMAN.  According to documents filed with the Copyright Office the Siegels, as of April 16, 1999, now own half of "each and every work (in any medium whatsoever, whenever created) that includes or embodies any character, story element, or indicia reasonably associated with Superman or the Superman stories, such as, without limitation, Superman, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Superboy, Supergirl, Lana Lang, Lex Luthor, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Ma and Pa Kent, Steel, the planet Krypton, Kryptonite, Metropolis, Smallville, or the Daily Planet."

The Siegels were able to accomplish this because of recent changes in the Copyright Act of the United States which recognizes that creators or their heirs have different bargaining positions in their lifetimes and the lengths of their respective copyrights. Michael Lovitz, an attorney with Akin, Gump, Strause, Hauer & Feld specializing in copyright law told Brady, "When the Copyright Act was changed over the last 20-some years to put the US in line with the European and world copyright community, part of that alignment included an extension of the terms of protection for the copyright. Originally, the copyright term was 56 years - 28 which was granted automatically, renewable for a second 28 year period. In the late '70s, the term of copyright protection was extended to put us in line with the Berne Convention, which increased the term to the lifetime of the creator plus 50 years, which came into play in '78. Recently, the Sonny Bono Amendment added another 20 years making it life plus 70 years, to put us again in line with the Berne Convention and the European Community. Each time there is an extension of the term of copyright protection; the Copyright Act provides the original authors or their heirs the opportunity to profit from their works during these extensions. If there were grants of rights by those authors, those rights need to be 'taken back' by the author first. The right of reversion section of the Copyright Act gives authors the ability to do just that."

Brady says, "Something important to remember regarding the issue is that the termination of transfer of copyright does not and should not go to trial for a judge or jury to decide upon the outcome. The proper papers were filed, the Copyright Office processed the reversion and it became effective April of this year, flowing automatically from the provisions laid out by the copyright statute." Brady believes that negotiations between the Siegel's lawyer and DC are ongoing. "The notices of termination were valid and effective," Arthur Levine, counsel for Joanne Siegel and Laura Siegel Larson told Brady. "Certain legal consequences flow from there, and that's all I can say about the matter." DC Publisher Paul Levitz told Brady, "We have a long and happy and complex relationship with the Siegel family."

Levitz's comment is ironic when considered against the actual history of the SUPERMAN franchise. In 1937 Siegel and co-creator Joe Shuster signed over all rights to the character for $130 and vague promises of more work. While the SUPERMAN character was an immediate smash hit, becoming the first true phenomenon of the nascent comic book publishing industry, spawning a pantheon of lesser imitators and ultimately generating billions of dollars in licensing profits for DC Comics, Siegel and Shuster were soon cut out of the equation by the publisher and spent a lifetime of poverty and failed litigation in the shadow of their ubiquitous creation. As recently as 1998, 'SUPERMAN, The Complete History' a coffee table book by Les Daniels that was subsidized by DC and copy-edited by Levitz painted the creators of SUPERMAN as 'manic' and 'malcontented' and railed at the media who "inflated the image of innocent boys deceived by a giant corporation."

Jerry Siegel, himself, in response to news that a big budget Hollywood picture starring his creation was underway in 1974, wrote, ďThe publishers of SUPERMAN comic books, National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics), killed my days, murdered my nights, choked my happiness, strangled my career. I consider Nationalís executives money-mad monsters. I, Jerry Siegel, the co-originator of SUPERMAN, put a curse on the SUPERMAN movie!Ē In response to the possibility of bad publicity, DCís parent company, WARNER COMMUNICATIONS, granted Siegel and Shuster small pensions and reinstituted their credit line as creators of one of the century's best known characters. Many industry watchers consider the gesture far too little and far too late. DC Comics handling of the Siegel and Shuster matter is seen by some as a black spot on the entire industry, if not one of the greatest cultural thefts of the century. The return of control of SUPERMAN, DC's crown jewel character, to the heirs of its co-creator, Jerry Siegel, after being subjected to a lifetime of such shabby treatment, is a seismic event in the history of comics.


RETURN TO SUPERMAN THROUGH THE AGES!
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