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Monday, September 13, 2010

Congress Killed Superman

This story was hilarious. In the 1976 copyright law, Congress added a clause saying "After 56 years, original authors, or their heirs, may reclaim their copyright, even if they sold it."

A "work for hire" doesn't count. For example, the software I write in my wage slave job is a "work for hire". Even though I'm the sole author, I can't ask to reclaim my copyright after 56 years. (not that I would want to)

Superman was developed by two artists, before it was sold to DC Comics. It was not a "work for hire". Their contact with DC Comics said "We sell you the rights to Superman forever." However, the 1976 copyright law overrides that clause of the contract.

The heirs of Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster, the original authors, sued Time-Warner, who now owns DC Comics, to get their copyright back. The two parties could not reach a settlement. This led to a bizarre Solomon-like ruling.

Some parts of the Superman story were written by the original authors. Other parts were added later. Siegel's heirs could only reclaim copyright to the parts they wrote. "Supeman is vulnerable to kryptonite!", "Superman can fly!", and "Lex Luthor" are still owned by DC Comics.

The two parties could not reach an agreement. The rights to Superman were split among two parties. The net effect is that *NOBODY* can legally write a Superman story.

Another issue is "Who owns the rights to the Superman cartoons/movies that were already made?" How does the revenue from that get split? The recent Superman movie was started after the "reclaim copyright" lawsuit was filed.

Intellectual property law leads to stupid lawsuits like this one. Even if you believe in "intellectual property", copyright was supposed to be "for a limited time". The correct answer is that "intellectual property" is not property.

Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Alice in Wonderland, and Charles Dickens are all public domain. Anybody can make a story based on them. Everything from the 20th century is locked up by copyright and owned/controlled by a corporation. That is silly.

If I tried to make and sell my own Superman story, I would be sued. That is wrong. Superman should be in the public domain.

"Intellectual property" is not property. "Intellectual property" is the artificial creation of an abusive State. There's a massive State brainwashing campaign to convince people that "intellectual property" should be treated like real property. The phrase "intellectual property" sets the debate in the wrong frame. It should be "intellectual unproperty".

A pro-State troll says "Copyright protects the little guy artist. Patents protect the small inventor." The actual implementation is the opposite. Copyrights and patents are abused by insiders at large corporations. All lawsuits regarding copyrights and patents are really a type of "legal extortion". If you're a small artist, it's hard to do anything without infringing on someone's copyright. If you're a small business owner, it's hard to avoid infringing someone else's patent.

"Intellectual property" law will always lead to stupid lawsuits like the one that killed Superman.


Anonymous said...

Suppose an artist draws an elf in art school. He leaves art school and for a while practices his craft. He draws amongst many things another elf.

He then gets a work-for-hire job. Amongst many tasks he draws an elf. The way the elf looks is due to established elf looks and also due to the artist's particular experience and brain.

He then leaves that job and gets another work-for-hire job. He stays there 5 years and amongst many things draws an elf. That elf looks a bit like the previous elves he has drawn.

He then leaves and sets up his own studio and does his own work for another 5 years. In amongst many drawings he draws an elf to a client.

Again that elf looks slightly like some of his previous elves, because the way a drawn elf looks does depend on slightly who the artist is.

Can he be sued by his previous employers?

Don't think something stupid like this can't happen? Small consultancy companies with hardly any money in their bank accounts will pull stunts like this with scum lawyers. As they have no money in their bank accounts they can't possibly lose. In the worse case scenario they get a judgment against them and nobody can collect. They also have the option of shutting down and starting up with a brand new company because they have no real assets. They just employ people.

You may thing people just use copyright for whole books, films etc. Scum lawyers try to use copyright against dictionary words, combination of two colors etc. Over enough years and with large enough works there will always be some sort of 1% overlap. Just enough for a particularly words lawsuit threat not to look immediately silly.

Anonymous said...

What does work-for-hire cover?

Work at weekends and evenings from home?

Does the law vary from US State to US State and from country to country?

It does. In South Africa a man wrote some software at home with his own computer. He brought it into work. He WAS NOT EMPLOYED AS A SOFTWARE DEVELOPER.

The company asked him for the source code and he resigned.

The court ruled the company owned the copyright.

Consider this hypothetical case. A man works at Microsoft on Visual Studio. He leaves Microsoft and starts to work at a scummy little company. They eventually start using Visual Studio. Does this mean the scummy little company owns part of Visual Studio?

Compare this to what happened in South Africa. A man who developed his own software lost the copyright to it, because after-the-fact he brought in the compiled object code into work.

Does the law vary according to whether a big company owns the software or a little man?

Anonymous said...

Does FSK have a work-for-hire job?

Well it doesn't matter really what FSK thinks. If any of the below is true we'll say he/she does.

a) Does FSK use a work provided computer at work?

b) Does FSK have his tax deducted by the company/bank he works for or his pimp/recruiter?

c) Does FSK not have the right to delegate his work to someone else? I believe some tax authorities say that you are only self-employed if you can delegate your work to someone else.

If any of the above or true, we can say it is work-for-hire.

In fact your job may seamlessly change from work-to-hire to not and then back again. Some courts say it depends on the context at the current time.

Wait a moment, FSK sometimes writes about the financial system which is connected to what he does at work.

So this blog is work-for-hire!

So when FSK is writing this blog from home or on the train, his/her computer or cell phone contains stolen intellectual property as the paragraphs he/she is in the middle of writing belongs to his/her pimp or bank!!!!


And also the posts before he/she started the current job belong to the bank as well, because someone somewhere may have viewed them from the bank. So the posts have been viewed in the bank, therefore the bank owns them.

A scummy lawyer would make all the above points. The fact that it is all stupid is beside the point.

The legal system is so corrupt and willfully blind it will entertain crap like this.

It is not about natural justice or morality, it is solely about useless, talentless scumbags making money dishonestly.

The scumbag lawyers will take years and millions of dollars to work out what a few words mean.

Legal Expert said...

"If any of the above or true, we can say it is work-for-hire."

You are confused about US law. Work for hire needs to be specified in your contract, and especially so if one is not an employee, otherwise then you retain copyright as the creator.

The test you are citing is for determining if someone will be considered an independent contractor or employee for federal tax purposes. It's a different issue.

If you have any questions about this, see a competent IP attorney. If your attorney tells you anything different than what I said above, get a new attorney.

Anonymous said...

Legal Expert, some people don't have written employment contracts. In this case courts in the US have decided whether someone is a work-for-hire employee based on who pays the tax.

Anonymous said...

I have seen really scummy rulings.

One guy wrote some software at home in the evenings. A US Court ruled the workplace owned it, even though he was an hourly employee and as such wasn't explicitly paid for this work.

In another case, the court ruled the guy that wrote the software owns it because he wrote the software for his own intellectual amusement and not for work, even though the software was related to what was done at work.

Anonymous said...

The thing I dislike is lawyers making a statement on their company website without backing it up by referencing statutory or case law.

For example on one US lawyers' website I saw the statement that if an employee writes a company game at home and the company he works for produces business software then it is OK. But if the person writes anything to do with business software at home it is not OK.

This sounds like a stupid law. It all depends on opinion. People only have a limited set of skills and interests. You don't always have the option of writing a computer game in your spare time.

I hate it when lawyers or someone connected to them, say this is THE LAW but don't reference the case law where the supposed law was made.

The fact is that courts and lawyers move so slowly and charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for deciding on the meaning of a few words, that any sort of lawsuit threat will burn a big hole throw your savings.

FSK said...

The law is vague, on purpose, to encourage frivolous lawsuits.

I'm not concerned about my current wage slave employer claiming ownership to my blog.

If necessary, I'd set up a new domain and hopefully bring most of my regular readers with me, before any lawsuit was resolved.

The software I write in my job is worth $0 to anyone besides my employer, so I don't care who actually owns it. (It's probably even worth $0 to my employer.)

If someone sues you, you have to pay the cost of a lawyer or pro se defense, even if you win. This enables insiders to use the legal system to extort/harass non-insiders.

The State legal system is a scam and a sham. The State has a monopoly, so there's no market feedback. If I had a clever idea for improving State legal system efficiency, I'm barred from implementing it.

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