Tintin and Copyright Law

Belgium is not only famous for food (such as french fries, chocolates, waffles), beers and the statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain. We also have a Belgian boy reporter: Tintin! (and Snowy, of course). 

In general, a copyright law prevents the unauthorized copying of a work of authorship. It is about protecting authors by rewarding them for their creative efforts. A copyright law grants certain exclusive rights (such as the right of reproduction and distribution) to the owner of a copyright in a work, for instance, a book.

As it is the case with every right, the question is: how long should it last? The duration of copyright protection is the life of the author plus 70 years. As you will read in this article, Hergé died on March, 3 1983. Therefore, the copyright protection will lapse on March 3, 2053 (1983 + 70). 

This fresh and interesting article is about a possible future copyright protection saga concerning Tintin character (from the IPKat):

'Since January 1929 when Tintin went to the land of the Soviets, he lived 23 full adventures .  Hergé was working on the last album “Alph-art” when he died on March 1983 [IP lawyers can’t help to do the math faster than their shadow :copyright will lapse in 2053].  His wife Fanny Remi then inherited Hergé’s legacy promising to respect his last will to refrain from creating new works with Tintin and his family of characters. Last week, Belgian Company Moulinsart SA, set up to protect and promote the work of Hergé,  announced that a new Tintin comic book will be published before 2052, thereby avoiding the famous intrepid reporter character to fall into public domain. Hergé’s estate management is separated as follows: Casterman publisher (now managed by Charlotte Gallimard) deals exclusively with publication rights, Hergé Foundation manages archives and protection of the work of art and Moulinsart handles the commercial exploitation.  In the 1990’s, finding quality of merchandising products disrespectful of the original works,  Fanny’s second husband Nick Rodwell and head of Moulinsart–changed commercial strategy and starting licencing exclusively production of the derived works and memorabilia in Brussels. Moulinsart has also been enforcing protection of Tintin’s IP rights, including against unauthorized reproductions by Tintinophiles [in Captain Haddock’s colourful language “Ten thousand thundering typhoons! Those freshwater swabs”]. In 2003, a website of Canadian fans was forced to close after refusing to enforce a Tintin’s Internet users chart. Further Successful cases include enforcing Tintin’s rights against Bob Garcia ("a detective novelist, Tintin aficionado and member of French Society of Sherlock Holmes- another copyright story reported by IPKat ") for £35,000 for printing five short essays distributed on a non-profit basis, two of which were illustrated with brief clips from the comic. BédéStory’s collection on the genesis of various adventures entitled « How Hergé created..” were enjoined from selling its books for reproducing without authorization comics strips protected by copyright. Parodies by Gordon Zola in the form of adaptation novels derived from the comic books were ultimately found in 2011 by the Court of Appeal of Paris to be protected exceptions and there was no risk of confusion with the original works.  
Hergé’s successors have in turn suffered from polemic litigation, including accused of racism ; the Court of Brussels in December 2012 refused to ban sales of  ‘Tintin in Congo’  holding that “a book written in 1930 could not contravene the spirit of the 1981 anti racism law”. Tintin is part of the collective memory today as well as his sidekicks, such as Thomson and Thompson, Professor Calculus and Snowy [known to this Kat as Dupont and Dupond, Prof. Tournesol and Milou]. Their adventures are translated into 77 languages including dialects, sold more than 230 million copies and  interest was renewed after the release of the Last Unicorn movie by Spielberg. The Hergé museum at Louvain-la-Neuve  proved to be extremely popular and Moulinsart claims reaping profits of copyright for some more years allow to fund further tribute. 

The question on everyone’s lip is whether the announced 2052 adventures will consist of a novel adaptation,  new contributors altogether or editing of unreleased strips? Further, will it be sufficient to extend Tintin’s copyright- should successors claiming similarly than for Sherlock Homes that his character keeps on living and needs extended protection. By granting the latter and increasing the present value of a work of art, obviously there is more incentive to create new works of art. However, fans are dubious this will truly reflect Hergé’s authorship and for most Tintinophiles the best homage to the Belgian fictional hero is the creation of fan works  and to let this character walk free into the public domain'.

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