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Saturday, June 04, 2011 

Is splitting Superman in 2 properties even workable?

Variety is talking about how the Siegel/Shuster estates won back some of the rights to the Man of Steel, but if it's only parts of the lore, as explained here, it's not clear if it would even be workable:
Warner Bros. is hoping that Zack Snyder can do for "Superman" what Christopher Nolan did for "Batman." But the studio's real-life tangle over the rights to the Man of Steel risks resembling another Nolan narrative: "Inception."
The way things are going, less than a year after Snyder's "Man of Steel" is released in 2012 the rights to a significant part of the early Superman lore will revert back to the heirs of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

The Siegel and Shuster estates could wind up owning some parts of the Superman story while DC Comics owns others. The estates could get Superman's blue leotard, red cape and boots, plus an ability to leap tall buildings while DC retains villains like Lex Luthor plus Superman's ability to fly.

The question is: Could each party proceed with a subsequent project without the other's involvement?

In theory, come 2013 auds could see two parallel versions of the Man of Steel ramp up. In practice, that looks pretty unworkable.

Setting this potential scenario in motion were a series of rulings in 2008 and 2009 by U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson, who ruled that Siegel's heirs had successfully reclaimed their share of the copyright to Action Comics No. 1, which marked Superman's 1938 debut; Action Comics No. 4; and other early depictions of the character and storyline. (Shuster's heirs are on a separate timeline that begins in 2013). Larson was acting on a provision of the 1976 Copyright Act that allows authors to regain the copyrights to their creations after a certain period of time, subject to a series of intricate conditions.

Among those conditions is that the works can't have been made "for hire," since those are exempt from such "rights termination," and it's a reason underlying Larson's ruling that the Siegel heirs don't own the Man of Steel outright; he found that Siegel's work as an employee of DC from 1938-43, as the character's mythology was still being established, remained under the ownership of the publisher.

While the "Superman" creators' heirs stand to hold important rights to the character, they don't have the trademarks, which would pose a significant limitation on marketing and merchandising. And their reclamation of the copyright applies only to the U.S., so international rights would remain in the hands of DC.

For its part, come 2013, DC could still exploit the Superman projects it's already made, but under the Copyright Act, the company could not create new "derivative" works based on Action Comics No. 1 and other properties held by the heirs. Presumably, more sequels would mean more legal land mines.
A Superman without the ability to fly would not have much impact. The result of this legal wrangling could be the inability to produce any real Superman stories at all, unless some kind of legal arrangement between sides could be worked out.

I guess that's the sad reality behind this whole affair when you look at how parts of the Superman lore have been basically split up: neither side could produce a coherent concept, and there's no telling if they'd even continue trying. The Man of Steel could be relegated to a dusty shelf for years, unless DC's publishing arm and the rights to publishing comics went to another, better source, which could encourage the Siegel/Shuster estates to remerge their rights to Superman back into the rest of the company.

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DC will just slap him in a new costume for a while, worst case.

That's assuming DC keeps the rights to Clark Kent, Lois, etc. If those went, would be complete chaos.

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