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Lawyers, they're always in the way. Take the ongoing court case between Warner Bros. and the family of Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman. Variety reports that the studio and DC Comics are on the losing end of a lawsuit which awards partial control over Superman back to Siegel. What does partial control mean? In this case it means the next time Warners wants to make a movie about Superman they may have to do it without Krypton, Jor-El, baby Superman’s ship, or Superman’s crash landing on Earth.

So what’s the deal? Short version: the judge awarded Siegel’s family control over specific pieces of Superman work which include those ideas. Long and ranty version: Copyright law has been stretched beyond all reasonable definition and is now used mainly to enrich people who had nothing to do with creating whatever it is that was originally copyrighted anyway. Most of the time that means more cash in the pockets of undeserving stockholders, but in this case it means the great-grandkids of some guy who doodled a man with an S on his chest eighty years ago can now hold any potential future Superman project up for ransom. I guess better them than Rupert Murdoch.

It’s been nothing but disaster in the wake of Bryan Singer’s initially successful Superman Returns a few years ago. Warner Bros. has sputtered and wheezed about wanted to make another one, but now who knows if they’ll ever be able to. They’re even running out of time on the rights they do have to the character. This is just the first nail in the coffin. By 2013 even more rights will revert to the Siegels and the estate of his co-creator Shuster, leaving Warner Bros. out in the cold. That not only means no Superman movies, but no Superman in any potential Justice League movies. The Shuster Estate by the way, isn’t even run by Shuster’s children. He left no heirs. (Update: As someone pointed out in the comments below, the Shuster estate is run by his sister though he had no children or wife.)

On the other hand maybe it’s a good thing. Even when they’ve had the rights, and even though Superman Returns made as much as Batman Begins, for some reason Warners hasn’t been able to get this Superman franchise going properly. If Shuster and Siegel get the rights back, they’ll presumably auction them off to someone else, someone who might be able to make things happen. Or, we could all forget about Superman and come up with new, original ideas which can be copyrighted and then be held in the iron grip of lawsuit happy media conglomerates for centuries to come! That was a joke. We all know that’s not going to happen. The part about the original ideas I mean. New lawsuits, those are definitely happening.
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