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Superman and Retroactive Creator’s Rights

The news got out this weekend that a Judge awarded co-creation rights to the family of Jerry Siegel, one of the two creators of Superman. DC Comics, thus Warner Bros., is no longer the sole owner of the famous character.

There has been a movement in the comics industry for writers and artists who created highly successful characters to retain ownership, or some portion of it, be restored to them. The argument is that the work-for-hire agreements and publishing contracts of the past were unfair.

While the geeky fanboy in me screams foul — “give the creators of the paragon of superheroes their due!” — I also think this is a little askew. Sure the two creators were broke artists living in New York in 1938 and were forced to make a deal with terrible terms just to make ends meet, but this is a historical fact. Are we going to revise all historical business agreements to make them fair by contemporary standards?

I love to see the creators of amazing work receive compensation proportional to the work’s quality — especially for something as monumental as Superman — but can’t this get our of hand? Creators working today should get royalties. But should that modern rationale be extended all the way back to 1938?

What are your opinions on retroactive rights and royalties?KO