Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Who Owns Superman? - Part II

            In this second part of my Who Owns Superman? series (you can find the first post here), I am going to briefly discuss the first lawsuit over the ownership rights to Superman.
            Before I get to the lawsuit, I need to summarize another related dispute between Siegel and Shuster and Detective Comics brewing at around the same time. As I mentioned in the previous post, Siegel and Shuster signed an agreement giving DC a right of first refusal to new stories they developed.[1] Around December 1938 and in December 1940, Siegel submitted detailed pitches for a Superboy comic.[2] In both cases, DC declined to publish it.[3] However, in 1944 while Siegel was stationed abroad during WWII, DC published a Superboy comic strip without his knowledge or consent.[4] It also obtained a copyright registration in all materials in the magazine containing the Superboy strip.[5]
            In 1947, Siegel and Shuster filed a lawsuit in New York against National Periodical Publications, the successor of DC. At issue in the case was whether the original agreement assigning Superman to DC was valid and whether DC violated Siegel’s rights by publishing Superboy comics.[6]
            In the case, Siegel and Shuster argued their previous agreements with DC should be “void for lack of mutuality and consideration.”[7] In effect, they argued the compensation DC gave them for Superman was inadequate, and it rendered the agreement void. They also raised a whole host of arguments relating to DC’s publication of Superboy without Siegel’s knowledge or consent, and its attribution of the character to him.[8]  
            The court found the original assignment of the rights to Superman to DC “was valid and supported by consideration, and that, therefore, Detective was the exclusive owner of ‘all’ the rights to Superman.”[9] The court also found that Superboy was Siegel’s creation and a distinct work for Superman, and due to DC’s failure to exercise its right of first refusal, Superboy belonged to Siegel.[10] Therefore, DC had “acted illegally.”[11]
            Both sides filed an appeal, but while it was pending, they reached an agreement on a settlement in 1948.[12] Siegel and Shuster received a payment of over $94,000.[13] DC was again declared the sole owner of the rights to Superman, and it also received all ownership rights to Superboy.[14]
            Even though the parties settled the dispute, this would not be the last time they’d battle over Superman in court. I’ll discuss the next set of cases in part 3.

[1] Siegel v. Time Warner, Inc., 496 F.Supp.2d 1111, 1114 (C.D. Cal. 2007).
[2] Id. at 1114-15.
[3] Id.
[4] Id. at 1115.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id. at 1115-16.
[9] Id. at 1116.
[10] Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Id. at 1118.
[13] Id.
[14] Id.

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