My favorite Superman writer is Cary Bates. Artist? Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. But my favorite single issue is SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI. And none of any of it would exist if two guys in Cleveland named Jerry and Joe hadn’t created Superman. Thanks to them, on Superman’s 75th anniversary today.
I’ll say this, though: 75 years after the debut of Superman…he ought to be in the public domain.
When Superman debuted, the expectation was that he’d be owned by the publisher for 56 years, maximum. Those 19 (so far) extra years were given by Congress to corporations, but the gift came from all of us, whether we agreed or not. Superman would have belonged to everyone by now, under the original deal. Not the publisher, not the creators’ estates, everyone. And I think it’s worth noting that we let — and are continuing to let — Congress and corporations simply take what would be ours and give it to the corporations.
Public domain enriches the world’s shared storehouse of artistic treasure. Unreasonable copyright extension harms that. Currently, Superman is scheduled to go into the public domain in 20 years. Unless copyright is extended again, of course. And that’s a big, big “unless.”
And keep in mind: when I say Superman should be in the public domain by now, I mean Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Namor, the Shadow, Mandrake and others, too. All these characters should be as available to everyone as Dracula, Hercules, D’Artagnan and Dorothy Gale.
I’ve had a great time writing Superman and other DC characters, but there should come a point that Superman, like Sherlock Holmes or Tom Sawyer, can be used by anyone. And that time should have come years ago.
That wouldn’t mean DC couldn’t still tell Superman stories — they’d have a great advantage, in fact, since they’d still solely own all the bits that hadn’t gone PD yet, so they’d be able to maintain and continue their legend, while others would only be able to draw on those concepts that had been published 56 years ago or more. A little more stuff every year, but then DC would have another year of new stuff they’d created, too.
But if Superman, Batman, the Shadow and others could be used as freely as, say, Elizabeth Kostova used Dracula in THE HISTORIAN (or dozens of others who’ve used him, including me), it’d be an interesting world.
And as long as I’m musing on copyright: You know, if copyright length was tied to the life of the human creator, even in work for hire cases, companies would have good reason to keep those creators healthy and secure in their golden years. Food for thought.