On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright ruled that the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster have no copyrights to DC Comics character Superman, having signed away their rights some two decades ago. In so doing, Judge Wright essentially cleared the way for DC Comics and its owner, Warner Bros., to proceed with a planned film "reboot" of the Superman franchise next year -- and to earn as much money as humanly possible from merchandising the man of steel in comic books, film, and on TV for as long as they want.
In 1992, Shuster's heirs traded their rights to DC Comics in exchange for a $25,000 annuity from the company, plus extinguishment of their existing debts. They later demanded that their copyrights be reinstated, arguing that federal copyright law permits heirs of artists to reclaim copyright to their works, if those works were created prior to 1978. (Superman first came out of the phone booth in 1938).
In his decision, Judge Wright disagreed, explaining that Shuster's heirs relinquished their right for good when they accepted the higher pension payments in 1992. In contrast, heirs of Jerry Siegel, who did not participate in the 1992 agreement, won a court order in 1998 that permitted them to reclaim half ownership of the Superman copyrights in 2013 -- the same year that the new Man of Steel movie is expected to hit theaters.