Friday, January 20, 2012

The Trials of Superman

The character of Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, has a long and complicated legal history. Jerry Siegel's heirs have terminated their half of DC Comics' copyright of the character and are entitled to share in any revenues made since the copyright termination.

Warner Bros, the owner of DC Comics, has not exactly cooperated. The Siegel heirs have been forced to sue, claiming that the revenue they are owed is being underestimated. That was the subject of the above trial. In the words of Daniel Best, who compiled those transcripts,
"The argument was that DC Comics had undervalued Superman and licensed the rights to exploit the character in movies and television by dealing with their parent company, Warner Brothers. DC argued that it had always done the right thing, that the deals negotiated and that the payments received, going back to the Salkind era (the 1970/1980s Superman movies with Christopher Reeve) and extending through to the current deals, including the television series Lois and Clark and the highly successful Smallville, along with the most recent movies, were more than fair and indeed over market value. The argument to resolve this was taken to a ten day bench trial, at which time DC Comics would have to prove that it had not undersold Superman, and the Siegel’s would have to prove otherwise. The trial gave a great insight into the machinations of comic books and motion pictures along with the true value of Superman, as a multi-media concept"
You can download the entire trial transcript for free courtesy of Daniel Best here. It's over a thousand pages and this is not everyone's idea of fun reading. However, I keep banging the drum on creators' rights on this blog, and this transcript is an example of what happens in court if there is a dispute between a creator (or his heirs) and the company he has done business with. Even if you only read a dozen pages, you'll learn more about how a real trial works than any TV show can tell you.


Rodney Baker said...

You are doing a great service by highlighting this here. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

How are his heirs owed anything?