Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reasonable Compensation

The ownership of Superman is not so clear as it once was. The family of one of the character's creators, who were paid far less than their creation was worth, have brought a lawsuit against the company currently publishing Superman comics, producing movies, and licencing the toy rights, which is clearly an issue of great importance to me.

I cannot explain the lawsuit better than Newsarama, and wouldn't want to try. Rather, I would like to provide one man's opinion, feelings, and fears regarding today's development.

Firstly, I should point out that it seems unlikely much will come of this ruling. This will certainly be appealed: the final issue in this miniseries has yet to be written, let alone pencilled and inked. Now, it seems to me that once this case has concluded, it is only fitting that the family of the character's creator be given more reasonable compensation for the most significant creative property of the last century than the modest payments they've so far received.

My fear isn't that this case will cause the publication of Superman comics to cease or anything else so dramatic. The pending appeals and the like make such dramatics an impossibility. The movies in production, however, are less certain. Warner Brothers may well put the sequel to Superman Returns, as well as the live-action Justice League project, on hold rather than risk having to pay royalties. I can even imagine them dictating the Man of Steel be withheld from the Justice League film, then try to have the movie go forward without him. I expect to revisit this scenario in more depth tonight during my nightmares.

Ideally, when all is said and done, I would like to see Warner Brothers buy the complete rights to Superman (and Superboy, as well: might as well take care of that once and for all) from the Siegels. I should think a fair price would be in the ball park of one point five billion dollars, though that figure may be low: I'm sure the lawyers can work out a fair and reasonable final price.

Of course, this still brings up the question of when (if ever) characters such as this will enter the public domain. Superman strikes me as a particularly tricky case, since elements of the character predate Siegel and Shuster's work. Part of me expects for Nietzsche's descendants to appear and demand a cut as well. I am certainly not suggesting that Superman was a copy of Nietzsche's work, but it was obviously an allusion. Further, it does strike me as though many of the streamlined elements that define the character, at least from a legal perspective, were derivative of the philosophical works which also provided the character's name.

It certainly seems to complicate Marvel and DC's trademark on the term "Super Hero", which is clearly itself derivative of Superman's name.

But it seems highly unlikely that trademark and copyright law is getting any major make-overs anytime soon, other than the requisite extensions to corporate properties which occur every decade or so like clockwork. The best we can really ever hope for is that the creators, or their families, be treated with dignity and paid reasonably, and that the properties we love continue to be produced.

If there's one thing we learned in the nineties, it's that the last thing we should ever want is a world without Superman.

1 comment:

Jeff Burns said...

Nice image Doc. Hope it didn't cost you.