Superman was worth just $130

Sony Pictures Imageworks)Did you know the creators of Superman sold the copyright in the character to DC comics for just $130?

In 1937, the two men who had created the “Man of Steel”, Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster, sold the copyright in the character to DC Comics for just US$130, missing out on the hundreds of millions that the Superman franchise would earn.

After Jerome’s death, the Siegel family sued media giant Time Warner (the current owner of DC Comics) to recover his share of the copyright, taking advantage of a US law that permits heirs to recover rights to creative works under certain circumstances.

Finally, a US court has now forced Time Warner to give up the share and it has reverted back to the Siegel family.

The Siegels were fortunate, however, in being able to access this law – there is no comparable law in Australia.

In Australia, copyright in original works endures for the life of the creator plus 70 years. For those tempted to take the money and sign away copyright, as Siegel and Shuster did, that is a long time to watch someone else enjoying the fruits of your creation.

Another notable example is the initial sale of the Nike logo for $35.

Contrast this with the opposite situation, where a creator refuses to sell all his copyright – George Lucas, who retained merchandising rights in Star Wars – and enjoys sales of US$12 billion from licensed products alone.

Photo: Sony Pictures Imageworks

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One response to “Superman was worth just $130

  1. It’s very lucky that the Siegals were able to recover their share in the copyright. There have been so many tragic examples where creators have signed their rights away. I cringe when I recall the stories of the impoverished songwriters of Tin Pan Alley era, many of whom never saw the millions of dollars their songs made for their record companies.

    But I suppose stories such as Superman, Nike and Tin Pan Alley can send the message out to creators that it is important to carefully consider the breadth of rights you are handing over in respect of your creation – particularly since it’s near impossible to accurately foresee the success of any creative product.

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