Re-Issue of Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes

Last year I mentioned the three volume Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes set that rocked my world as a child.

The first volume in the series, the Batman encyclopedia, is going to be re-released in May retailing for about $20. The Superman and Wonder Woman editions are also being re-released over the summer.

And for that very special Batman fan in your life, Previews is offering a Neal Adams-signed Batman volume for only $149.99.

Smallville Hit By Copyright Kryptonite

Brian Cronin does an excellent job of explaining the very odd legal situation that DC Comics has found itself in over the copyright to the Superboy character.

DC owns the copyrights and trademarks to Superman, Clark Kent and the other characters created and derived from Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster’s famous creation.

But a funny thing happened to Superboy — in 1976 the U.S. Congress extended the term of copyrights from 28 years to 47 years. It also made provisions so that copyright transfers originally made for 28 years could be cancelled after that period and the additional 19 years could revert to the original owner.

Suppose, for example, that you created a character in 1948 and transferred the copyright for what then would have been 28 years — i.e., the copyright would have expired in 1976. Under the new provision, you could file to regain the copyright in 1976 and decide who to sell the remaining 19 years of copyright protection to.

In 1947, a judge ruled that Jerry Siegel was the sole owner of Superboy, who had first appeared in comics in 1943. In 1948, Siegel and Shuster signed away all their Superman-related rights, including Superboy, to DC for $100,000.

In 2002, however, citing the provisions of the 1976 copyright provision, Siegel’s estate informed Time Warner, which owns DC, that it was reclaiming its right to Superboy.

Unfortunately for DC, it now has a hit show called Smallville which focuses on a young Superman. What a trial court will now have to decide is whether or not Smallville is a series about Superboy, as the Siegel estate contends, or a young Clark Kent, as DC and Time Warner contend.

And the situation is even more complex, since DC and Time Warner are the sole owners to the Superboy trademark, meaning no one could market Superboy-related comics or other media without DC’s approval.

What a weird mess, and frankly one that DC deserves given the shabby way it treated Siegel and Shuster for creating characters that made the company literally hundreds of millions of dollars.


Judge Says Siegels Own Superboy. Will It Affect “Smallville”. Brian Cronin, ComicBookResources.Com, April 6, 2006.

Marvel & DC’s Super Powered Trademark

In the latest issue of Reason (not online yet, unfortunately), Matt Welch has an article about his early, misplaced optimism of the role that blogs and amateur journalism would have. If anything, I was even more optimistic than Welch. Take a tool like Google where it is almost trivially easy to track down and fact check any bit of trivia along with blogs and open source CMS systems that reduced the cost of publishing to the entire world to next to nothing, and the result should have been a journalistic renaissance.

Apparently not. The reality is that if a given claim fits a person’s preconceived notion of the world, then most people will not factcheck it. So if you survey a random sample of blogs, I suspect you would find far more misinformation therein than in any comparable sample of traditional media (which is definitely not a compliment to traditional media).

A good example of this involves a series of inaccurates posts on the extremely popular techno-culture weblog Boing! Boing!. A contributor to news aggregation site Digg.Com submitted a link to a Boing! Boing! article about Marvel’s trademark of the word “super hero.”

Another contributor to the Digg site responded that a) Boing! Boing! looked like NASCAR (I counted no less than 20 ads on the front page) and b) that the information on Boing! Boing! was factually incorrect.

The response from other Digg.Com contributors was to mod such comments down with responses largely being variations of, “How could you mod down a Boing! Boing! article?”

But if you look at Boing! Boing!’s post on the trademark issue, it leaves out an important detail,

Marvel Comics: stealing our language

Marvel Comics is continuing in its bid to steal the word “super-hero” from the public domain and put it in a lock-box to which it will control the key. Marvel and DC comics jointly filed a trademark on the word “super-hero.” They use this mark to legally harass indie comic companies that make competing comic books.

First, the trademark at question is for “super hero” and “super heroes.” A number of sites have falsely concluded from Boing! Boing!’s ambiguous post that Marvel and DC have just recently applied for a third trademark for “super-hero” and “super-heroes.” The hyphenated version is so similar to the non-hyphenated mark, that it is almost certainly already covered by the claimed trademark (in the same way that Marvel doesn’t have to trademark “Spider-Mann” to prevent another comic book company from publishing that title about a web slinging wall crawler).

Second, Marvel and DC don’t just claim such a trademark. Trademarks for “super hero” and “super heroes” costumes and toys was granted 40 years ago, and DC and Marvel were jointly granted the trademark for “super hero” and “super heroes” for comic book publishing purposes in the early 1980s. Both trademarks and their history can be freely examined on the USPTO web site.

A little fact checking, please.

Now on the bigger issue, Boing! Boing! is absolutely correct — it is absurd that Marvel and DC were allowed to register such a common term as their trademark. They have used their trademark to enjoin a number of publications that wanted to use “Super Heroes” in the title of the publication, typically leading companies to come up with new titles. For example, if I wanted to create a parody book, “The Secret History of Super Heroes”, Marvel and DC could force me to change the title.

This is ripe for a legal challenge on the grounds that super hero was already sufficiently diluted as a generic term when Marvel and DC registered it and that they’ve done nothing to establish “super hero” as referring exclusively to Marvel or DC properties. Certainly they don’t incorporate it in their logos or any of their publications on a consistent basis.