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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Superman Artist’s Heirs Lose Copyright Claims

(CN) - DC Comics and its parent company Warner Brothers own the copyrights to Superman, a divided panel of the 9th Circuit ruled this week.

In doing so, the court noted that it was ending "another chapter in the long-running saga regarding the ownership of copyrights in Superman - a story almost as old as the Man of Steel himself."

Heirs of Superman co-creator Joseph Shuster filed a copyright termination in 2003 in a move to reclaim rights Shuster had sold to DC Comics in 1938.

U.S. District Judge Otis Wright in Los Angeles ruled for DC, finding that a 1992 agreement signed by Shuster's siblings, from which they received lifetime pensions from DC, had canceled out the previous contract.

The federal appeals panel affirmed Thursday, 2-1.

"The district judge correctly held that the 1992 Agreement, as a matter of New York law, superseded the 1938 assignment of copyrights to DC, and therefore operated to revoke that assignment and re-grant the Superman copyrights to DC," the unpublished majority ruling states.

Writing in dissent, Judge Sidney Thomas argued that the record was "not sufficient to establish that Joe Shuster's siblings had the authority in 1992 to revoke and supersede his 1938 copyright grant."

Copyright law in 1992 was such that "no one except the surviving spouse or child could exercise the right of termination," he wrote.

Indeed it was not until 1998, "six years after the parties executed the agreement at the center of this appeal," that "Congress extended the termination right to authors' executors, administrators, personal representatives, and trustees," Thomas added.

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