Siegels win Superman ruling

Judge says co-creator's heirs recaptured key rights

The heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel have muscled a few more rights away from DC Comics and Warner Bros. in their latest round of litigation.

In a 92-page ruling issued Wednesday, Judge Stephen Larson found that the Siegel family had successfully recaptured key rights to the character, including the first two weeks of Superman newspaper comic strips that lay out now-familiar elements of the mythology.

The issue was whether those materials should be included in the Siegels' "termination" of Superman copyrights. Larson ruled in 2008 that the Siegels had properly recaptured copyrights associated with Superman after years of being controlled by Warners/DC, but questions remained about whether the material that was potentially created as a "work-for-hire" should be included. Under copyright law, "works-for-hire" created while employed by someone else are not subject to later termination.

The court ruled, for the most part, that the Siegels successfully recaptured most of the works at issue, including those first two weeks of daily strips as well as key sections of early Action Comics and Superman comics. This means that the Siegels, repped by Warners' nemesis Marc Toberoff, now control depictions of Superman's origins from the planet Krypton, his parents Jor-El and Lora, Superman as an infant, the launching of the baby Superman into space and his landing on Earth in a fiery crash.

But Warners/DC still owns other elements, including Superman's ability to fly, the term "kryptonite," the villain Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen and some of Superman's powers.

"Warner and DC Comics are pleased that the court has affirmed that the vast majority of key elements associated with the Superman character that were developed after Action Comics #1 -- including Lex Luthor, kryptonite and Superman's ability to fly -- are not part of the copyrights that the plaintiffs have recaptured and therefore remain solely owned by DC Comics," Warner Bros. said after the ruling.

The decision is the latest twist in the battle over ownership of the Man of Steel. Larson's 2008 ruling requires Warner Bros. and DC to account to the Siegels for profits earned from the character since 1999, including those from the 2005 film "Superman Returns." But a trial last month over accounting issues ended with a Warners victory.