Supermoney: The Superman Trial and Jerry Siegel’s Estate

Mike Gold

ComicMix's award-winning and spectacularly shy editor-in-chief Mike Gold also performs the weekly two-hour Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind ass-kicking rock, blues and blather radio show on The Point, and on iNetRadio, (search: Hit Oldies) every Sunday at 7:00 PM Eastern, rebroadcast three times during the week – check above for times and on-demand streaming information.

You may also like...

9 Responses

  1. Russ Rogers says:

    I remember Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster appearing on Howard Cosell's, "Saturday Night Live" in 1975. This was a short lived, prime-time, live TV show on ABC. I remember a short interview where Cossel (Did you know he was a LAWYER?) and the creators of Superman discussed litigation with DC This was 33 years ago! The litigation began when, in the 1940s? And now we have a decision from the courts in 2008! And, of course, this is sure to be appealed. How long can this grind on?Michael Jackson and Sony own the Beatles catalog of songs. Who owns Miracleman now? When does "Happy Birthday to You" fall into the public domain? Just this week, I saw a currently produced TV show have the characters sing, "For It's Your Jolly Good Birthday" (to the tune of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow) in order to avoid paying the royalties on "Happy Birthday to You." What a load of crap!I was on iTunes today, I could have bought "100 Hits of the 80s," by the Countdown Singers for just $11.99! That's just 12 cents per song to have some crappy cover band rehash hits of twenty years ago! Worse, I paid 99 cents for "Right Back Where We Started From," by Maxine Nightengale, a GREAT 70s Disco hit! Unfortunately, I had to pay for an Original Artist Re-recording, because iTunes doesn't have the rights to distribute the original. Maxine Nightengale is forced to be a crappy, sound-alike, cover band of herself.For years Marvel Comics kept Jack Kirby's original art in it's vaults. They claimed (to the government) that they didn't own the original art (because then they would have had to pay taxes on the value of the art), they were just storing it for the artists. Of course, they wouldn't give it back to Kirby when he asked for it. When it was FINALLY returned, after much litigation, (and does anybody here remember "Destroyer Duck"?), much of the art had mysteriously vaporized. And I don't think Kirby was compensated for the loss.We live in better times now, major publishers will print works that are "Creator Controlled." Publishers are more generous/magnanimous/fair about returning original artwork. Although, I 'm sure there are still major disputes. There are pioneers working to establish and maintain creator's rights. More importantly, there are more comics that are creator controlled. There is a Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to fight censorship. Still, the questions of "copyrights" and "intellectual property" plague and confound us, maybe now more than ever.

    • Mike Gold says:

      Michael Jackson only owns the Northern Songs part of the catalog, if I'm not mistaken. And "Happy Birthday To You" is owned by Time Warner!As for Howard Cosell — I sat next to him at William M. Gaines' memorial service. A amazingly wonderful event (the memorial, not Bill's death) emceed by one of my heroes, Lyle Stuart.I don't know how much of Kirby's art was kept SAFE in that alleged vault. I've long suspected folks had been making off with it a couple pages at a time for years. Circumstances led me to believe that…As for our copyright and trademark laws, well, I studied them in school and have kept up with them ever since. They were stupid and inappropriate for their time back then, and far, far more so now. Every time they've been revised and updated, matters got worse. I think it was Lincoln who said "One nation by Disney, of Paramount, for Time Warner."Prescient guy, that Mr. Lincoln.

      • Vinnie Bartilucci says:

        The locations of Kirby's art is as lost to time as the locations of the lost Doctor Who episodes. In both cases, it is believe thay all exist, in the hands of numerous collectors who will never turn them in, for the sheer joy of owning something no one else has, even if they can never show it to anyone.I think when all is said and done, upwards of a billion dollars will change hands. Time Warner and DC cannot have co-ownership of their flagship character; there's far too much chance that the estateers will try and queer every deal that comes down the pike.

        • Mike Gold says:

          A billion is a lot of money. But I'll bet a quarter of that would be an adequate starting point for TW.Mind you, I'm sure this is totally out of DC's hands — other than being in an advisory capacity. Failure to reach or even offer an equitable arrangement has not been within DC's domain, and I got into some "discussions" on DC's behalf over the matter with then-Warner Communications back in the later 70s. I strongly believe some of the rumors that Paul Levitz tried to get a decent settlement on the table, but TW wouldn't go for it. There's lots of rumors, but I know Paul and I've got great sources and I believe there's some significant human truth to this.if it is true, I'll betcha TW now wishes they green-lighted Paul's offer.

  2. Russ Rogers says:

    There is an interesting non-fiction comic called, "Bound By Law," that tries to unscramble some of the issues surrounding intellectual property, public domain and copyright. It's available on Amazon, or you can read a digital version free!Here is the link:

  3. Jonathan Miller says:

    Joe Shuster's nephew (who is the executor of his estate) has filed for the same reversion of rights the Siegels did, to become effective in 2013. As I understand it (I'm not a lawyer, but I did read much of the ruling as well as Jeff Traxler's FAQ), the Shuster case is a seperate matter, thus not directly addressed in the court's ruling.Also, the ruling will have no effect on any rights sold or assigned after 1976, right? Wasn't the reversion clause specifically for work done prior to the Copyright Act of '76? (Specifically to address cases prior to a certain date where corporations screwed creators like S&S;.) While it's true that this might make corporations a little more cicumspect about buying concepts that aren't work-for-hire (which they are already; just as Marv Wolfman), the law/legal precedent here doesn't have a direct impact on current practices, yes?

    • Mike Gold says:

      Ask Jack Kirby. Okay, that's a little difficult. Still…Marvel offered Jack — and others, but Jack's case was deservedly well publicized — his original art back and a package of other things. Keep in mind: Marvel's reprint payments weren't contractual guarantees but "incentives" paid at their option. All he had to do was sign a contract that retroactively assigned all rights to everything Jack did for Marvel to Marvel, without question. This was not a case of an ipso facto agreement as much as it was a proposed sale of rights that Marvel would never acknowledge Jack had in the first place. You can, indeed, sell your right to make claims or to litigate over same.

  4. Jonathan Miller says:

    That seems like apples and oranges to me, Mike. Kirby's '60s and '70s work for Marvel was done on a work-for-hire basis and not subject to the same legal basis as the Siegel claim. The only copyright that might come under that clause would be Captain America–about which Joe Simon filed a termination of rights for several years ago and then came to an undisclosed settlement with Marvel over.Not to say what happened to Kirby wasn't terrible, but it really has nothing to do with a termination of rights, which (from my layman's perspective) seems to be pretty restrictive and specifically does not cover work-for-hire.

    • Mike Gold says:

      I appreciate your point, Jonathan — as a legal action, the Siegel affair differs. I was addressing the moral point, and we can compare how creators were treated in the mid-1930s to how they were treated a half century later. My piece addressed how the entertainment industry will always try to screw the creator. In a half century, the only thing that changed was the manner in which they got screwed.In such affairs, Newton was right: with every action there is an equal but opposite reaction.