Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America. But then they were fired by Marvel Comics' corporate predecessor in a dispute over royalties, and Captain America remained the company's property, not theirs. Who are we protecting with copyright? And how central is it to artists' motivations to create? Of course, we live in a far more commercially minded world now:
These days creators have learned from the past by self-publishing or otherwise securing the rights to their progeny. But some of the founding fathers of American superheroes are still seeking justice. Just last month a federal judge ruled that the heirs of Jerry Siegel, a creator of Superman, were entitled to claim a share of the United States copyright of the character. Time Warner, which owns DC Comics, would retain the international rights.
“That’s great,” the bespectacled Mr. Simon said. “Jerry Siegel started it,” he added, referring to the effort by Mr. Siegel’s wife and daughter in 1997 to secure the copyright to Superman. (Under a 1976 law, heirs can recover the rights to their relatives’ creations under certain circumstances. Mr. Siegel died in 1996 without major compensation for his character.) That family’s stand inspired Mr. Simon’s own claim to Captain America in 1999.
“We always felt ‘we wuz robbed,’ as Joe Jacobs, the boxing promoter, used to say,” Mr. Simon said of his dispute over the ownership of Captain America, which he settled out of court with Marvel in 2003. He said his royalties for merchandising and licensing use of the hero now help pay his legal bills from the case.
But copyright was not on Mr. Simon’s mind when he was conceiving Captain America. He didn’t even begin with the hero. “Villains were the whole thing,” he said. And there was no better foil than Hitler. Who better to take him on than a supersoldier draped in the American flag?