News this week that the US courts have ruled that Time Warner, owner of DC Comics, is no longer the sole proprietor of Superman must be be good news for the heirs of Jerome Siegel — who 70 years ago sold the rights to the action hero he created with Joseph Shuster to Detective Comics for $130.
The heirs are now entitled to claim a share of the United States copyright to the character, subject to inevitable appeal in a court case that has rumbled along since 1999, but The New York Times reports the ruling left intact Time Warner’s international rights to the character, which it has long owned through its DC Comics unit.Still to be decided is how much the company may owe the Siegel heirs for use of the character since 1999, when their ownership is deemed to have been restored.
Imagine if the creators of comic characters in the UK, or their heirs, were able to make similar claims against DC Thomson, IPC, Egmont and all the other comics companies that have laid claim to all rights to the creations that have made them a fortune in terms of comics sales and merchandising.
Unfortunately, they will all happily point at the work for hire agreements all creators will have signed when working for them which, bar some characters, mean those who put the effort into making them a success on the printed page will never see any royalties in terms of initial use, reprint in comic collections or t-shirt sales. A situation I have always regarded as bizarre when companies can so easily work out how much to pay another company in fees and royalties when it comes to licensing, but not build in similar payments to the creators who may have written the licensed comics.
As usual, the individual creator has to wait for a landmark case like this one to start the ball rolling in their favour and most simply do not have the energy to devote to such a cause.
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