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Superman / Jerome Siegel Copyright Decision

Superman / Jerome Siegel Copyright Decision



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Published by legalmatters
A must-read for anyone with an appreciation for law, comics, great writing, or all of the above.
A must-read for anyone with an appreciation for law, comics, great writing, or all of the above.

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Published by: legalmatters on Mar 29, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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JOANNE SIEGEL and LAURA SIEGELLARSON,Plaintiffs,v.WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENTINC.; TIME WARNER INC.; and DCCOMICS,Defendants. ))))))))))))))CASE NO. CV-04-8400-SGL (RZx)[Consolidated for pre-trial and discoverypurposes with CV-04-8776-SGL (RZx)]ORDER GRANTING IN PART ANDDENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS’MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARYJUDGMENT; ORDER GRANTING INPART AND DENYING IN PARTDEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR PARTIALSUMMARY JUDGMENTThe termination provisions contained in the Copyright Act of 1976 have aptlybeen characterized as formalistic and complex, such that authors, or their heirs,successfully terminating the grant to the copyright in their original work of authorshipis a feat accomplished “against all odds.” 2 W
§ 7:52 (2007).In the present case, Joanne Siegel and Laura Siegel Larson, the widow andthe daughter of Jerome Siegel, seek a declaration from the Court that they haveovercome these odds and have successfully terminated the 1938 grant by JeromeSiegel and his creative partner, Joseph Shuster, of the copyright in their creation ofthe iconic comic book superhero “Superman,” thereby recapturing Jerome Siegel’shalf of the copyright in the same. No small feat indeed. It requires traversing the
Case 2:04-cv-08400-SGL-RZ Document 293 Filed 03/26/2008 Page 1 of 72
A fanzine is a publication, usually distributed at no or nominal cost,produced by fans of a particular topic (such as comic books, opera, murdermystery stories, etc.) for others who share their interest.
many impediments — many requiring a detailed historical understanding bothfactually and legally of the events that occurred between the parties over the pastseventy years — to achieving that goal and, just as importantly, reckoning with thelimits of what can be gained through the termination of that grant.Any discussion about the termination of the initial grant to the copyright in awork begins, as the Court does here, with the story of the creation of the work itself.In 1932, Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster were teenagers at Glenville HighSchool in Cleveland, Ohio. Siegel was an aspiring writer and Shuster an aspiringartist; what Siegel later did with his typewriter and Shuster with his pen wouldtransform the comic book industry. The two met while working on their highschool’s newspaper where they discovered their shared passion for science fictionand comics, the beginning of a remarkable and fruitful relationship.One of their first collaborations was publishing a mail-order fanzine titled“Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization.”
In the January, 1933,issue, Siegel and Shuster’s first superman character appeared in the short story“The Reign of the Superman,” but in the form of a villain not a hero. The story toldof a “mad scientist’s experiment with a deprived man from the breadlines” thattransformed “the man into a mental giant who then uses his new powers — theability to read and control minds — to steal a fortune and attempt to dominate theworld.” (Decl. Michael Bergman, Ex. HH at 1126). This initial superman characterin villain trappings was drawn by Shuster as a bald-headed mad man.A couple of months later it occurred to Siegel that re-writing the character asa hero, bearing little resemblance to his villainous namesake, “might make a greatcomic strip character.” (Decl. Michael Bergman, Ex. HH at 1126). Much of Siegel'sdesire to shift the role of his protagonist from villain to hero arose from Siegel'sexposure to despair and hope: Despair created by the dark days of the Depression
Case 2:04-cv-08400-SGL-RZ Document 293 Filed 03/26/2008 Page 2 of 72
and hope through exposure to the “gallant, crusading heros” in popular literatureand the movies. (Decl. Michael Bergman, Ex. HH at 1126). The theme of hopeamidst despair struck the young Siegel as an apt subject for his comic strip:“Superman was the answer — Superman aiding the downtrodden and oppressed.”(Decl. Michael Bergman, Ex. HH at 1126).Thereafter, Siegel sat down to create a comic book version of his newcharacter. While he labored over the script, Shuster began the task of drawing thepanels visualizing that script. Titling it “The Superman,” “[t]heir first rendition of theman of steel was a hulking strongman who wore a T-shirt and pants rather than acape and tights.” (Decl. Michael Bergman, Ex. HH at 1129). And he was not yetable to hurdle skyscrapers, nor was he from a far away planet; instead, he wassimply a strong (but not extraordinarily so) human, in the mold of Flash Gordon orTarzan, who combated crime. Siegel and Shuster sent their material to a publisherof comic books — Detective Dan — and were informed that it had been acceptedfor publication. Their success, however, was short-lived; the publisher laterrescinded its offer to publish their submission. Crestfallen, Shuster threw into thefireplace all the art for the story except the cover (reproduced below), which Siegelrescued from the flames.
Case 2:04-cv-08400-SGL-RZ Document 293 Filed 03/26/2008 Page 3 of 72

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