Friday, April 14, 2006

Who Owns "Superboy"?

The last couple of weeks, the internet (also newspapers) have had pieces about the fight between Jerry Siegel's heirs and Time-Warner -- which owns the rights to Superman but not Superboy... There are angry critics on both sides of the equation: "The Seigels are greedy sh*ts! They're gonna louse up "Smallville"! How dare they!" or "These big, greedy corporations just beat down the little guy..." But then there's another, basic issue: Should corporations OR individuals hold a copyright for the better part of a century? This is now the case, thanks to new federal laws. Copyright protection -- which lasted all of 28 years when the Constitution was written -- now extends back eighty-three years to 1923 (that's for copyright holders who didn't let copyrights lapse.) So Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid," a feature from 1921, would now be in the public domain. But Chaplin's "Gold Rush" (1925) would be copyright protected. And of course, Mickey Mouse, born in 1927 with "Plan Crazy," is still copyrighted. Me, I have a basic problem with corporations owning copyrights as if they were the authors of the works the (c) protects, but that's the way it is in this corporatist age. On the other hand, I have an issue with copyrights going on for a hundred years and more. As Kevin Koch remarked when we were jawing about this yesterday: "Shakespeare couldn't have written "Hamlet" or a lot of his other plays under current copyright law. The owners of the plays he was basing his work on would have sued him..."


Michael said...

Supposedly it's the Mouse's fault. Disney is adamant that "Steamboat Willie" (1928) not go into the public domain - they don't want to lose control of anything to do with Mickey Mouse. Disney's got some deep-pocketed lobbyists to work on Congress when the issue comes up again. In 1998 they got Congress to pass the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (aka the Mickey Mouse Protection Act) making it 95 years for a "corporate authorship".

Tom Dougherty said...

It would be great to see some of this play out in court. It only takes one greedy, malignant DC or Marvel losing something like this in court to bring down the lot of them by setting a precedent, so look for Warner, Disney and Marvel to lock step on this issue.

Siegel and Shuster, Jack Kirby, and others are looking down (Bob Kane looking up) at this with great interest, I'm sure.

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