Superman vs. Superboy


DC Comics owns and publishes Superman, right? Sure, we all know that. But here’s a puzzler for ya — does DC Comics own Superboy?

It’s not as easy as you might think. In fact, there’s a lawsuit going on right now trying to determine that.

Confused? So is just about everyone else…

So here’s the story — Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman way back in 1932 and sold him to Detective Comics, Inc. in 1938. They wrote a bunch of Superman stories under a standard work-for-hire contract — they got paid for what they wrote, and the company had full ownership of the characters and stories they wrote. Some of the stories they wrote, particularly the stories about Superboy — Superman when he was a kid back in Smallville — were not written as work-for-hire.

Now Siegel and Shuster were notoriously done-wrong by DC — they were paid very little, compared to what Superman was worth to DC, and they were eventually kicked out of the company, along with a bunch of other old-timers, because DC was afraid they’d want to get paid more money. Eventually, DC came around (with a little nudging from a few lawsuits), paid Siegel and Shuster some more money ($20,000 per year, plus medical expenses) and credited them with Superman’s creation in every story in which he appeared.

Siegel and Shuster are both now dead, but their families are still a bit put out with the company. And as screwed up as copyright law is these days, they’ve seen the opportunity to try to claim the rights to Superboy. Now normally, you’d say they have no shot. Yes, the Superboy stories weren’t written as work-for-hire, but they’d normally be considered derivative of Superman — they have the same costume, the same “S” shield, they’re both named Clark Kent, etc., etc., etc.

But a judge could rule that parts of the stories belonged to the Siegels and Shusters. It all depends on whether the stories were original enough to establish themselves as separate from the other Superman stories. The judge could rule that the families own parts of the Superman mythos, like Smallville, Krypto the Superdog, Lana Lang, or even Ma and Pa Kent.

Do the families want to own parts of the Superman mythos? Probably not. They couldn’t do anything with them — even if they got ownership of Superboy himself, they couldn’t publish Superboy comics, because DC’s ownership of the trademark for the character isn’t challenged. Do they want to get hold of those characters to make DC stop publishing stuff about Smallville or the Kents? No, because they ain’t crazy. What they want is more money, more than likely. Do they deserve more money or ownership of the characters? That’s something for the judge to decide, but there are more things at stake than just legal issues.

Again, lemme point you to this analysis of the case. The author has a much greater grasp of legal matters than I do…

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