Just a week after the legal battle for copyright ownership between the heirs of artist Jack Kirby and Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment over characters including the Incredible Hulk and the X-Men, which was covered by my colleague, Goutam in a previous post, the Supreme Court was presented with another legal dispute concerning a very popular comic character. Yes, we are talking about none other than Superman!
In the dispute between DC Comics and the estate of co-creator Joseph Shuster, DC Comics has emerged victorious as the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal against an earlier ruling. The decision which was rendered on October 6, 2014 marks the third attempt by the estate of Shuster which failed to reclaim copyright over the superhero. Prior to this decision of the Supreme Court, the suits were rejected last year by the US District Court for the Central District of California and then by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The dispute which had been going on since 2003 was initiated by Shuster’s estate when they attempted to reclaim the character’s copyright, which it had assigned to the film studio Warner Bros. subsidiary DC as per a 1938 agreement, by filing a termination notice. DC, in response, argued that a more recent agreement signed in 1992 by Shuster’s siblings had revoked the earlier deal and re-granted the copyright to DC. The reasoning behind this argument made by DC was the claim that the US law only allows challenges to copyright agreements signed before 1978 and the 1992 agreement which was signed later, would supersede the original 1983 agreement.
Superman was created by Joseph Shuster along with Jerry Siegel in 1933, after which the character was bought by DC in 1938. Since then, DC has been primarily responsible for the development of the character to the popular icon that we see today.
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