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Superman Co-Creator's Heirs Win Rights to Early StoriesA federal judge has ruled that the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel are co-owners of copyrights to the first two weeks of the daily newspaper strips and other early material. The ruling allows the Siegels to recapture stories of Superman's origins on Krypton, his launch as a baby into space and his crash-landing on Earth. Warner Brothers and DC Comics retain the rights to some other elements associated with the character, including his ability to fly, the term "kryptonite" and villain Lex Luthor.
The American Lawyer2009-08-17 12:00:00 AM
A federal district court judge in Riverside, Calif., ruled Wednesday that the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel are co-owners of copyrights to the first two weeks of Superman daily newspaper strips and other early Superman material. The ruling is the latest in an ongoing dispute between the heirs and DC Comics and Warner Brothers.
Judge Stephen Larson's decision allows the Siegels to recapture stories of Superman's origins on planet Krypton, his launch as a baby into space and his crash-landing on Earth. Warner Brothers and DC still own copyrights to other elements of the Superman character, including his ability to fly, some other superpowers, the term "kryptonite" and the villain Lex Luthor. Here's a copy of Larson's 92-page decision. (Hat tip to The Hollywood Reporter, Esq.)
In October the Lit Daily's colleagues at IP Law & Business ran this profile of the Siegels' lawyer, Los Angeles solo practitioner Marc Toberoff, who has also successfully represented the heirs of Lassie's creator in copyright disputes. But Judge Larson put the spotlight on the "near-Herculean effort and diligence" of the plaintiffs' previous counsel, Arthur Levine of Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner. The judge pointed out that Levine made sure that defendants knew Siegel's heirs intended to recapture all, not just some, of the copyright in the Superman character when they received a six-pound, 546-page termination notice from the plaintiffs early in the dispute. (That strikes The Litigation Daily as the first time we've seen a lawyer praised for superhuman efforts in page-length.)
Warner and DC issued the following statement: "Warner and DC Comics are pleased that the court has affirmed that the vast majority of key elements associated with the Superman character that were developed after Action Comics No. 1 are not part of the copyrights that the plaintiffs have recaptured and therefore remain solely owned by DC Comics."
According to court records, DC and Warner are represented by the following firms: Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu; Weissmann Wolff Bergman Coleman Grodin & Evall; Loeb and Loeb; and Perkins Law Offices.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Litigation Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.