Lex Luthor Wins: How the Termination Right Threatens to Tear the Man of Steel in Two

Cheng, Anthony

When Superman was created in 1938, there had never been a character quite like him. His arrival marked the first appearance of a superhero, setting off a trend that would come to dominate the comic book medium, one of the few distinctly American art forms, for the next seven decades. As befitting his larger than life adventures, the fictional character Superman spread across all communicative media, from the comic page to the radio serial, animation, live action television and motion pictures. Superman began as the brainchild of Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, two like- minded sons of Jewish immigrants who met and befriended one another while attending the same Cleveland, Ohio high school. After many fitful stops and starts, and multiple interested publishers, Siegel and Shuster eventually brought the otherworldly Superman, the “last son of Krypton,” to Detective Comics, Inc. (“DC Comics” or “DC”), where he remains to this day. The “Man of Steel’s” colossal and unforeseen success has thrust DC and the Siegel and Shuster heirs (and the creators themselves, while they were still living) into a seemingly never-ending battle over the copyright to the character. Critical to this legal battle is the termination of transfer provision created in the Copyright Act of 1976, which grants the creators’ heirs the ability to recapture the rights the duo granted to DC over seventy years ago. The termination battle over Superman has thrown into sharp relief copyright law’s uncomfortable treatment of fictional characters and the protectability of such characters separate from the works in which they appear. Now that the Siegel heirs have successfully terminated the original Superman assignment, the heirs, along with DC, are co-owners of the copyright to Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, through the Shuster interest that DC still possesses. But if and when the Shuster heirs’ termination becomes effective in 2013, the question will arise: what Superman property interests will the parties be left with after that date?



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Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts

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July 2, 2012