If Siegel and Shuster had done business with honorable men, their lives — and the lives of their families — would have been far different. But they didn’t. Harry Donenfeld was a crook. Jack Liebowitz was a two-faced socialist who abandoned his principles in the name of corporate profits. If there’s a Hell below, I’ll surely meet both men there. No: Siegel and Shuster struggled financially for decades, and while each died earning stipends that DC Comics had been shamed into paying them, these sums were nothing compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars the company had reaped over the decades and continues to reap, a gluttonous middle finger thrust into the face of the American Dream.
- Dirk Deppey on the sordid history of Detective Comics conduct toward Superman creators Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster.
I'm pretty much in agreement with those sentiments. However Judge Larson's decision limited itself to the creation of Superman in Action Comics #1. He upheld a previous court ruling rejecting DC's dubious claims that the company had significant input into the creation of the story:
The thrust of defendants’ argument was made and rejected by the Second Circuit in the 1970s Superman copyright renewal litigation, and is thus precluded as a matter of collateral estoppel here. In that litigation, defendants’ predecessors-in-interest presented much of the same evidence now submitted in this case to argue that this additional material transformed the entirety of Siegel and Shuster’s pre-existing Superman material published in Action Comics, Vol. 1, into a work made for hire. The Second Circuit rejected this argument, elaborating: “In the case before us, Superman and his miraculous powers were completely developed long before the employment relationship was instituted. The record indicates that the revisions directed by the defendants were simply to accommodate Superman to a magazine format. We do not consider this sufficient to create the presumption that the [comic book] strip was a work for hire.” Siegel, 508 F.2d at 914. This conclusion forecloses any further litigation on the point of whether Shuster’s additional drawings when reformatting the underlying Superman material into a comic book format or other facts related to such a theory such as the colorization process for Action Comics, Vol. 1, or the party responsible for the illustration of the cover to the magazine, rendered all or portions of the resulting comic book a work made for hire.
Which sidestepped the issue of ownership for subsequent works created under work-for-hire conditions. As Deppey puts it:
...few if any original concepts and/or characters currently in use by major comic-book companies can so easily be demonstrated to have been created and produced outside the premises of the company before being licensed for publication. Two borderline examples — Dan DeCarlo’s co-authorship of Josie and Marv Wolfman’s creation of Blade — have already been struck down by the courts as having been created on a work-for-hire basis. From the perspective of the larger New York corporate-comics industry, then, this really isn’t going to change anything save, perhaps, the way that DC Comics’ accounting department deals with Superman. And even there, changes won’t become immediately apparent until the other issues in the Siegal case are resolved. Until that occurs, DC Comics is still entitled to create and publish new Superman comics, and Warner Brothers is still entitled to make Superman movies and license the characters out to third parties for lunchboxes and whatnot.
So there won't be an avalanche of creators from the thirties or forties successfully reversing copyright for comics created under work-for-hire conditions back to themselves. Nonetheless the story of DC's screwing of Siegel and Shuster is the story that defined the one-sided nature of the relationship between publisher and creator for the next several decades. And it's important that some justice be served for their years laboring for less than honorable people.