Monday, December 31, 2007

It's Public Domain -But He Had Better Be Dressed In Green

With Peter Pan about to (once again) fall into the public domain, Great Ormond Street children's hospital is preparing for the loss of revenue from licensing the story:
A vital source of funding for the hospital will come under threat from January 1 when Peter and his Neverland companions are thrust into the public domain. Author JM Barrie bequeathed all the rights to Peter Pan to the hospital in 1929 and they have provided badly needed funds ever since.
In many senses, Great Ormond Street has been a good steward for the Peter Pan legacy. Unlike companies which directly produce entertainment works, and which may guard their intellectual property at the expense of creativity and innovation, Great Ormond Street has licensed the story for adaptations and sequels which depart markedly from the Barrie original, and from what a media company might deem an appropriate depiction of the story's characters. That said, in my opinion, copyright protections are already too long.
When some order was first brought to global copyright under the Berne Convention of 1886, the intention was to reward authors and the first two generations of their descendants, explains Mark Owen, head of intellectual property at law firm Harbottle & Lewis. Copyright now expires 70 years after an author's death.

But in an age where characters and works survive for longer and in more media than ever before, copyright cut-off points are increasingly coming into question, he adds.
Let's be honest - a miniscule amount of the vast body of copyrighted material is of much interest even five years after publication, and virtually none is of interest seventy years after the author's death. The people who are interested in again extending the protection are companies like Disney, which do not wish to see their earliest works fall into the public domain. Nobody needs to be reminded of the irony in Disney's building its fortunes on public domain works, only to repeatedly and successfully lobby Congress to keep anybody else from doing the same with its own creations.

Meanwhile, Great Ormond Street is trying to prepare for a post-Peter Pan future:
Much of the hospital's hopes are down to Peter Pan in Scarlet, the winner of a competition to become the classic's official sequel. Commissioned in 2004, well in advance of the original's copyright expiry, the new tale by Geraldine McCaughrean has already been translated into 37 lanaguages and printed in 40 editions.
I can't help but wonder if the change of costume figured in to why this particular book was the winner. Depict Peter Pan in green, and you're in the public domain, but if you put so much as a hint of red on his costume.... (Here's a review of the sequel.)

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