On Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling that Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel transferred the rights to the character to Warner Bros. in 2001.
This is the latest ruling in an ongoing legal battle waged by the families of creators Siegel and Joe Shuster against DC Comics and its parent company. This latest jaunt to the appeals court stems from a ruling in a case where the Siegel and Shuster families attempted to leverage the “termination” provision of the 1976 Copyright Act.
In 2001, Siegel’s widow agreed to a settlement deal with DC Comics, which the 9th Circuit ruled in 2013 was an enforceable contract. The ruling went back to district court, with the plaintiffs contending that the agreement did not transfer rights, and if it had, it did include rights to Superboy or early versions of Superman because those rights hadn’t been terminated at the time the widow accepted the offer.
In the Wednesday ruling, the court said none of that matters, that Congress authorized a “re-grant of copyrights by contract in lieu of statutory termination," and that the Siegels "bargained with their statutory termination power in hand to negotiate a highly remunerative new agreement."
The court also ruled that the Siegels will not be allowed to rescind on the agreement, saying that the widow’s death would incur too much prejudice toward DC Comics. They court will also not revisit the earlier decision that Superman was created as a work for hire, and is therefore not eligible for termination to begin with.
The case would appear to now be settled once and for all, though we’ve assumed as much before and been proven wrong. Having already run through the 9th Circuit, the Siegel’s could appeal to the Supreme Court. I’m no expert but, outside of the high profile of the intellectual property in question, it’s hard to see why the highest court in the land would deem this worthy of their time and attention.