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How Siegel And Shuster And Warner Bros Inc.Have Been Fighting For Superman's Copyright Battle

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Superman Copyright Lawsuit

Superman is the most well known Superhero of all times making billions of dollars over the years. However, most people don’t know the history behind the ownership of Supermans copyrights. While Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the character Superman in 1933 they sold the copyrights to DC Comics in 1938 therefore DC Comics has ownership of the character. After many court battle the final ruling was in favor of DC Comics having full ownership of the character.

The first edition of Superman was published in May of 1938. Joe Shuster and Jerry siegel were hired by DC comics to create a 13 page comic of Superman, they were paid $130 ($10 a page) for their work. When Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel agreed on this deal they signed away the copyrights to their character Superman(Jerry Siegel). They soon after realized that they made the biggest mistake of their lives. They continued to work with DC comics and by the year 1946 they each had a steady salary of approximately $100,000 a year, small change compared to the millions of dollars DC comics was making off of Jerry’s and Joe’s work. Joe and Jerry also realized that More Fun Comics began to publish Superboy, a younger superhero almost identical to Superman. Joe and Jerry did not receive any compensation for that character. They felt they deserved a larger share of the profits so they started the relentless battle over the copyrights of Superman. They hired attorney Albert Zugsmith and began to battle DC comics for the copyrights of Superman and credit for the new character Superboy. By the year 1948 Joe and Jerry spend all of their money on the legal battle and finally received $200,000(Weems, Erik). “But this was not for the rights of Superman, it was only royalties for the character Superboy.” (Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and Superman). Not only did they receive $200,000 they were also promised that their names would show up in Superman movies, cartoons, and TV shows as Superman’s creators. This seemed like a good deal to them at the time but soon after, both Jerry and Joe were fired from their jobs at DC comics due to the lawsuit. They attempted to create other comic book characters in the 50’s such as Funnyman, but none were successful(Tye, Larry). Jerry and his family soon found themselves close to poverty.

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During the 60’s and 70’s Jerry and Joe became the center of attention once again in the comic community. But it wasn’t until 1969 that Jerry and Joe attempted to sue DC comics, once again for the rights over Superman. It was at this time that DC comics had to renew their copyrights. Jerry and Joe thought this could be their way in. At this time both Jerry and Joe were slipping into deep poverty(Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and Superman) . In 1975 Jerry’s and Joe’s claim was denied by the federal court which meant that their last chance at gaining the rights to Superman was to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. This legal battle was called “Siegel and Shuster VS. Warner Communications”. At the time that Jerry and Joe had brought up the case, Warner Bros, DC comics’ parent company, was releasing the Superman movie Superman. Jerry knew that Warner Bros didn’t want any bad publicity at the time of the release of the new movie, so he went ahead and sent out a press release to the media exposing the terrible deal Shuster and him were given. This angered Warner Bro’s tremendously, they would do anything to get Jerry and Joe off their backs. So they agreed on a settlement of $20,000 a year and credit on all superman comics and movies stating that Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster(Weems, Erik). Joe Shuster died on July 30, 1992 at age 78 and Jerry Siegel died on January 28, 1996 at age 81. They both achieved great milestones in their lives one of the greatest is being credited for their creation, Superman(Tye, Larry). Although both Siegel and Shuster were dead, the battle over Superman was not over.

On April 16, 1999 Joanne Siegel, Jerry’s widow, and their daughter, Laura Siegel Larson, filed a “copyright termination” attempting to cancel the copyright transaction done in 1937. Warner Bros rejected the termination and the case went back into the courtroom. Then in 2002 the Siegel estate filed a request for ownership of Superboy. Their request was granted in 2006 but then taken away in 2007. Warner Bros was required to have a film out by the year 2011 in order to keep their copyrights. Therefore, the movie Man Of Steel was released. However in 2008 a judge ruled that the Siegel family is entitled to a share of the copyrights to Superman. The judge also granted the Siegel family payments for their share of copyrights dating back to 1999. This was a huge win for the Siegel family although their success did not last(Weems, Erik). The legal Battle took a sad turn for the worse on the Siegel’s side. Joanne, Seigel’s widow, at the age of 93, began to suffer from a tragic heart disease. Joanne’s daughter also suffered from multiple sclerosis, spine disorders and fibromyalgia. To make matters worse Warner Bros accused the Seigel’s lawyers from Toberoff law firm, of using stolen information. They allegedly acquired this information from an ex-employee. “The idea was that the studio and publisher hired attorney Daniel Petrocelli to come up with a new strategy to prevent the studio from possibly losing a portion of the copyright to Superman in 2013” (Finke, Nikki). Warner Bros was stalling for time. They knew that Joanne’s time was limited and the case would weaken without her. Joanne died on Valentines day of 2011, she left behind a note addressed to Jeffrey Bewkes, Chairman and CEO for Time Warner, Inc.. “She asked for the litigation and harassment to end. She explained that she was, at the age of 93, suffering from a serious heart condition and her cardiologist told her she could no longer go through any more depositions without risking a heart attack or stroke. Joanne said that she and her daughter had told the attorneys everything that they would need and that the additional depositions were just opportunities to continue harassment and delay a judicial resolution. Mrs. Siegel wanted to get her share of Superman. She never saw the end.”(Tye, Larry). In 2012 things turned around and began to lean towards the Warner Bros side. An agreement signed by Joe Shuster’s sister in 1992 which “Waived the right to any ‘past, present, or future claims against DC’ in exchange for $25k a year and coverage of her brother’s debts”(Goodwin, Jess) was brought up. The Siegels and Shusters had signed away their rights to Superman years ago. On December 12, 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal made its ruling 2-1 in favor of Warner Bros having all copyrights for Superman(Tye, Larry). The battle had come to an end.

The Superman copyright battle was a long and traitorous battle between Siegel and Shuster and Warner Bros Inc. When Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel sold the copyrights to Superman they made a mistake that would stay with them till the day they died. Moreover, when DC comics purchased the copyrights to superman in 1938 they completely took out Siegel and Shuster from the equation.


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