It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…it’s Warner Brothers!
Another victory for Warner Brothers in a lifelong battle over the copyright to Superman. The U.S. Supreme Court denied review of Superman’s co-creator’s heirs, Joseph Shuster, to terminate Warner Brothers’ rights to the Superman copyright. Shuster’s heirs requested a hearing to challenge Warner Brothers’ copyright on the grounds that the 1976 Copyright Act allowed them to reclaim their portion of the comic character icon. A provision of the Copyright Act allows authors to terminate and reclaim previous assignments of copyrights.
Shuster’s heirs initially made an agreement in 1992 with DC Comics, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, to transfer all rights in Superman for more than $600,00 and other benefits including paying Shuster’s debts following his death and providing his sister and brother with a $25,000 annual pension. In October 2013, a U.S. District Court found that the 1992 agreement invalidated a copyright-termination notice filed by Shuster’s nephew in 2003. A month later, The Ninth Circuit affirmed that Warner Brother is the sole owner of the Superman copyright. In its opinion, the Ninth Circuit also overturned a 2008 decision that granted co-creator, Jerry Siegel, his 50 percent share of the copyright to the first Superman story in “Action Comics” #1.
The Shuster estate could not convince the Supreme Court to take the case. As it appears, Shuster’s estate’s kryptonite is the 1992 agreement which essentially forfeited any rights they had to terminate the copyright assignment to Warner Brothers. For now, it appears that the Man of Steal will remain with DC Comics.