Warner Bros' Kryptonite: Superman Creator's Heirs
Can you imagine being the creator of the iconic Superman character and then selling the rights to that creation for $130? Of course, you know what they say about hindsight being 20-20. But back in 1932 when Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster as teenagers authored the superhero we know today, a deal like that seemed decent enough. Thankfully, a court ruling last week against Time Warner (via NY Times) might finally rid the Siegel heirs of this truly bitter taste. One wonders, then, what will become of future Superman projects, including the sequel to the 2006 Superman Returns and the already troubled Justice League of America movie.
Essentially, the judge determined that the Siegel heirs' rights to the Superman character were restored as of 1999, stemming from a lawsuit brought by Mrs. Siegel and her daughter in 1997. That suit relied on a 1976 law, which allows heirs to recover rights to creations under certain circumstances. Considering this, it seems Warner Bros (the film unit of Time Warner) owes the Siegels quite a pretty penny, since Superman Returns brought in just over $200 million domestically in 2006. (This latest ruling only pertains to the US copyright to the character.)
So what does this mean for the upcoming projects? No one really knows just yet. It seems to simply boil down to Warner Bros forking over some money; but is that enough to really derail any upcoming productions? If I'm right, Alex is probably giggling that Justice League is hit with yet another setback. To give you an idea, attorney Marc Toberoff, who also repped this case, got producer Robert B. Clarke $17.5 million from Warner Bros stemming from similarities between Clarke's 1975 Moonrunners and the big-screen Dukes of Hazzard.
Toberoff was a good choice by the Siegels, for sure. The guy has filed similar copyright suits involving various productions, such as Wild Wild West, "Smallville", and the forthcoming Get Smart.
Yet however noble this latest ruling for the Siegel heirs may be, Toberoff's own personal ambitions smack of some greediness. The guy has apparently set up a production company stemming from all this litigation called Intellectual Properties Worldwide. Toberoff even sometimes gets a producing credit on the resulting films.
Complicating the Superman outlook further is the fact that Shuster's heirs are eligible to bring a similar suit in 2013. Whether that suit would be retroactive as it is for the Siegels is unknown. But you can be sure Warner Bros is stepping lightly now and taking a hard look at the viability of future projects.
Reader Feedback - 11 Comments
This is rather stupid. Does this mean if i sell an idea i have now that down the road when it makes money i can get money from those i sold it to? Thats ridiculous. He sold it and it is no longer his.
Heckle on Mar 31, 2008
money hungry bastards
john on Mar 31, 2008
I agree Heckle This is nothing, but greed. How can heirs inherit something that has already had rights sold. It's not even the creators. Just some people who happen to be related, so by right think they are owed something. I had a distant relative who played with Babe Ruth and was in the Pride of the Yankees. So by definition, I should be due some cut of proceeds ever made on that movie and tickets to games. Just ridiculous...
Ruby on Mar 31, 2008
Im with Ken on this one. If you sell a stupid idea for a grand and then it makes a billion dollar franchise, sure as hell I would fight for some more money back!
Ryan on Mar 31, 2008
Maybe i'm just being naive, but they sold the rights and were financially rewarded in return for selling them at the time and for a period thereafter...... If they were too stupid or commercially naive themselves to negotiate a fair deal when they sold the rights, then why should some distant relative be eligible for for what amounts to a lottery win??? I'm sorry but I can't think of any other form of business were you can benefit 56 or 75 years after making a stupid decision.
Craig on Mar 31, 2008
Well i wasnt aware of the copyright law. That sort of changes things but not totally. If i sell you something then it belongs to you. Not me. I mean if i sell you a used car and then you go win a race with it.....do i deserve part of the winnings? NO.
Heckle on Mar 31, 2008
Good. Maybe this will kill the sequel to Super Deadbeat Dad and the JLA movies.
go Siegel on Apr 1, 2008
Folks crying greed have absolutely no understanding of the wholesale theft and abuse that comic book companies have continually perpetrated on creators.
Gus on Apr 1, 2008
Hey Gus! Show me your doctorate thesis research paper on the topic of the "wholesale theft and abuse in the comic book industry" you claim so much knowledge of and I'll believe your otherwise wildly baseless claim. As far as I'm concerned, if Siegel and Schuster sold the copyright, their heirs have absolutely no right to it, ever. If Siegel and Schuster did not choose to terminate the transfer in 1976, then their heirs _still_ have absolutely no right to it. Anyone who makes any sort of claim that they deserve a part of the profits from the continued success of their parents' ideas deserves nothing. If you're not running your parents' business, you get no part of it unless your parents' made the silly mistake of writing into their will that you get a stipend from the company until your death, or the company goes out of business.
Steffen on Apr 2, 2008
Steffen. Wow. Jack Kirby co-created the Marvel Universe as we know it, including X-Men, The Hulk and a slew of other ka-billion dollars properties, and he was only paid a flat page rate with no royalties. Many MANY other examples of this in comics, including the creator of Howard The Duck and Blade, situations where creators either signed a horrible contract or were outright duped, only to see their characters raking in millions in film years later. Jack Kirby apparently couldn't set foot in a toy store because he would get physically ill seeing aisles full of toys based on his creations--none of which he would see a dime profit from. Bill Finger was the co-creator of Batman and died penniless without co-creator credit until years later. The comics industry has a proven track record of abuse toward creators, although it has improved in the last 15 years or so.
Scott on May 29, 2009
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