Posted on Thursday, August 13th, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
This week, Warner Bros has lost Krypton. Last year a Federal judge decided that Time Warner was no longer the sole proprietor of Superman, and that the heirs of Jerome Siegel (of Siegel and Shuster) are entitled to a share of the US copyright to the character. This week a court ruled again, giving the Siegel family a larger share of the intellectual copyright. And the race is on to get a new Superman film in flight by 2011, as WB/DC is set to lose the complete rights to the man of steel in 2013.
Superman first appeared in Action Comics No. 1, which was published in 1938, and sold to DC Comics by Siegel and co-creator Joel Schuster. DC Comics owns everything after that as it has been deemed a work-for-hire relationship. The court had awarded the Siegel family with many aspects of the Superman copyright, including the basis of the Superman character, his costume, his alter-ego reporter Clark Kent, Lois Lane, the Daily Planet newspaper, and the Clark/Superman and Lois love triangle storyline.
But the ruling did not give the family the full Superman copyright because DC Comics owns some of the important elements identified with the character, including his ability to fly, vision powers, the term Kryptonite, Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and “expanded origins.”
The court battle is ongoing, and on Wednesday, Judge Stephen Larson awarded the Siegel family rights to more additional works, including the first two weeks of the daily Superman newspaper comicstrips, as well as the early Action Comics and Superman comicbooks. What this means is that the Siegels now control depictions of Superman’s origin story. Everything from the planet Krypton, his parents Jor-L and Lora, the launching of the infant Kal-L into space by his parents as Krypton is destroyed and young Superman’s crash landing on Earth.
The whole court case is really to determine how much money Warner Bros. and DC owe the Siegel Family from profits they collected from Superman since 1999. And to make matters worse, copyright law will give the Siegel family full ownership of Superman in 2013. This is the date that matters, because after 2013, the Siegels could bring the property to other movie and television studios. So if Warner Bros wants to produce a new Superman movie before they are forced to pay major bucks for the rights, they will need to go into production by 2011.