It seems that DC Comics is gradually coming increasingly close to losing the rights to their biggest heavy hitter and the leader of the DCU, Superman. According to a report by Variety, Federal court Judge Stephen Larson ruled on Wednesday, August 12th that the character's co-creator, Jerry Siegel "successfully recaptured" some of the rights to Superman's early years.
Jerry Siegel, has [acquired] 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.
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.
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.
The case was determined based on the ruling that when the character and his story were bought, that it did not fall under the 1976 "works-made-for-hire" portion of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). The code distinctly states that the work of the creator is protected; and that "when the work is written down or otherwise set into tangible form, the copyright immediately becomes the property of the author that created it....[and] only the author or those deriving their rights from the author can rightfully claim copyright" ( Copyright.gov).
What this means is that since DC did not commission the origin story of Superman and Siegel was not hired by DC or commissioned when the concept for Superman was created; that it does not fall within the scope of "works-made-for-hire," and therefore the rights of the character can be returned to the creator.
The issue behind this case sadly has less to do with the ownership of the character, and more to do with how much Warner Brothers and DC Comics owes Shuster and Siegel for the use of the elements of the character's origin story over the years. By 2013, Schuster and Siegel combined will completely hold the rights to Action Comics No. 1, giving them the ability to move projects (i.e. motion picture, television program) associated with the character to another studio.
It seems that in the end, the Man of Steel is not invincible after-all; and that sadly, the incredibly iconic character may one day no longer be a staple in DC Comics continuity. That is, unless, they wish to completely change Superman's origin history. Does this story happen to have anything to do with the fact that the re-telling of the Superman origins tale is set for release this September? What are your thoughts on the future of Superman? How do you think this will effect the DC Universe?