Joanne Siegel died today at the age of 93. She was married to the late Jerome Siegel, the co-creator of Superman with Joe Shuster. Joanne was the model for Lois Lane.
I met Joanne at a memorial service for Jerry Siegel in 1996. Jerry died only a few weeks before my article in the Los Angeles Lawyer magazine about the rights of comic book creators appeared. I had so wanted to talk to both Jerry and Joe when I wrote the first incarnation of the article while I was a law student and had come to the realization that the two men were fast approaching an opportunity to relitigate their rights to the Superman character. Unfortunately, that was in 1992 and Joe died about then and I had no convenient way to contact the Siegels. I was also concerned about the question of rights when the property was co-created and there was no spouse or children to claim the reversion for one of those co-creators (Joe.)
After my article appeared, I heard from Joanne's son-in-law and met him at at Beverly Hills Bar Association lunch one day. I also got a call from Joe's nephew, but a nephew does not have the same rights that a spouse or a child has under the reversion of rights which can accrue to a copyrighted property created under the Copyright Act of 1909.
I admired Joanne for going forward with action to reclaim her rights to Superman after Jerry died and the reversion period kicked in. I admire her even more for putting up with more than a decade of litigation which has yet to be resolved. I am sure her daughter will continue the fight.
Comic book companies cheated young creators like Jerry and Joe (while wiser men with better advisers managed to negotiate better contracts) and continued to lie and cheat creators until the 1980s when they really couldn't get away with it any more. By then, people talked to each other and young creators had access to organizations which made them a little more savvy about their rights and business practices. Paul Levitz at DC made a concerted effort to improve contracts, creators' rights and royalties, and even reached back to improve the participation of creators of older properties.
Nevertheless, there are a few very valuable properties created under the 1909 Act that will be subject to reversions and the Siegel cases combined with Joe Simon's efforts to reclaim Captain America will help those creators--or their widows or children--get a fairer shake for the remainder of the copyright term. I hope Marvel/Disney is ready for that, because Marvel never made any effort to atone for its greedy ways.