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Suggestion: Could one make a new Tintin film when he becomes public domain in America in 2024?

#1 · Posted: 1 May 2021 12:07
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets was released in 1929. According to US copyright law of the time, the expiry on Land of the Soviets should be 95 years, making Tintin a public domain character. This will make the production of a commercial feature-length Tintin movie possible for a US release three years from now.

Trademark law is more complicated, but it is generally believed that no trademark can prevent you from using promoting a public-domain character for a work or adaptation of a work. In other words, you should be able to use Tintin's name for a film based on Land of the Soviets, but not to release your own Tintin-branded line of clothing.

The problem lies with the fact that the two Tintin albums coming into the public domain in the next five years are the worst two ones - Land of the Soviets and Tintin in the Congo, one of which is an album-length political cartoon and the other of which is horrifically racist.

What is the answer to adapting these stories of which Herge himself was ashamed? Simple. The answer is to tell the story of Tintin, parallel to Herge's, in confronting ones own prejudice and embracing a pluralistic outlook of all people's. Tintin will travel to Africa with the ideas Europe gave him, and just like Herge meeting Zhang Chongren, will see these ideas confronted by the living reality of a people who are very different from what the books in Europe told him.

I'd like to see Moulinsart sue about that. They'd have to argue that Tintin in these comics is inherently racist and for the court to stop us from making him not racist.
#2 · Posted: 6 May 2021 18:16
According to US copyright law of the time, the expiry on Land of the Soviets should be 95 years, making Tintin a public domain character.

I am not (as I have said on here many times) a lawyer, but the earliest possible date Tintin could possibly become public domain in the U.S. would be 1st of January 2025: under the "Sonny Bono" Copyright Term Extension Act, the "95th year" includes the remainder of the calendar year the anniversary falls in - so, for example, Steam Boat Willie, released in 1928, becomes public domain in the U.S. in 2024, not 2023 (see here for the statute info).
Anyway, that little issue aside - given it was published as a serial, you'll be stuck with the story becoming public domain in bits; you'll need to wait for 2026 for the episodes published in 1930 to join the start of the story, and that will slow things down a bit for any adaptation.
Also bear in mind that you will have to avoid any elements of the saga which don't appear in Soviets - so not just no Thom(p)sons, Captain or Calculus, but no blue pullover or ginger-red hair, and your character will have to look unlike the later depictions of Tintin, used in later books, because all that will still be under copyright.
In light of all this, and given that you want to change the story fairly fundamentally - as well as making it for a largely American audience - my question would be: why bother? Why not just make an original film with your own characters, and you and your heirs will have the 95 years of rights to do with as you will!
#3 · Posted: 6 May 2021 21:01
Also, I have to point out that "Tintin in Congo" was just a normal story about Africa back when it was first written in 1930.
It is not my favorite story about Tintin either for different reasons, but I would rather call it "dated" than "horrifically racist".
Even so, I must agree that it would be hard to make it work as a movie these days without changing the story too much.
Because except for how the Congolese are portrayed, you would have to remove most of the hunting scenes as well.
Yeah, it is not unheard of that an older story is changed into a successful modern movie set in the past.
Disney has done that several times.
But it would be weird to adapt the two "Tintin" stories, which plenty of fans and Hergé himself thought are the most inferior.
Thus, I would rather speak to whoever owns the copyrights and ask for permission to adapt some newer stories instead.
#4 · Posted: 8 May 2021 13:54
Sure, it was perfectly normal back in, but sensitivities have changed and the story would have to be adapted.
Then, it isn't an impossible or "blasphemous" thing to do, either: Disney's adaptations of traditional fairy tales are much tamer than their original, often bloody versions, which were appropriate for the 17th century, but not for the 20th one.
#5 · Posted: 15 May 2021 12:46
It is not my favorite story about Tintin either for different reasons, but I would rather call it "dated" than "horrifically racist".

This isn't directed against you, Furienna, but let's not to re-examine that topic here, as we've other threads to cover it, which are better place to carry on that discussion; it's okay to touch on it in the matter of how it might or might not affect the question of usage in the present day if and when it enters the public domain, but anything else is for other threads.

Here's a thing which might put the original topic in a bit of perspective: James Bond is in the public domain! And has been for several years!


Only in Canada, and any other countries which use the base line of the Berne Convention (the international protocol for copyright) of "Author's lifetime, plus 50 years" as the foundation of their national regulations (the Convention allows for individual nations to set the limits at the base-line as a minimum, but individual countries can increase the terms in their jurisdictions if they want).

So my question would be, that, given that we've had four or five years of freedom (in Canada!) to make new James Bond movies, TV shows and books, why are we not seeing lots of Bond projects filling the gap while we wait for the official movie to be released?

And the answer would be, it appears, that it's very, very complicated: the books are in the public domain, but not the movies, so any new works have to scrupulously avoid including anything which could be reasonably construed to be part of the film Bond's world. This has actually been a problem in the past, as the screen Bond has been pitted against the written Bond before, when it was argued (successfully) that the movie Bond had been developed by Fleming and others from his book character, but that Fleming then took the (then unproduced) script for Thunderball, wrote a novel based on it, and didn't credit his screen writing partners. This led to a seemingly ever-more complex set of court cases, as people sued each other, and a period in which two different entities held rights to make movies (giving us the Connery Bond come-back, Never Say Never Again). It only all came to an end when, through various mergers and deals, one company ended up holding both sides of the rights, effectively ending litigation, and re-uniting them.

So, while the law may allow Canadians to make James Bond works, the potential for the maker to fall foul of something which isn't in the public domain is enough to make them pause; that they then would have to navigate the problems of getting any traction in places that he's not in the public domain probably renders the project unworkable for the foreseeable future.

And there are all sorts of caveats and points about what is and isn't permissible even with the things that you could do - it would appear you could legally* print your own copies of Casino Royale, and haul them over the border and sell them in America, because they were legal where you made them, but you couldn't read them out loud to an audience there, because the performance rights of that text in the U.S. aren't in the public domain.

James Bond books are wholly in the public domain in Canada, yet remain an area that people seem reluctant to take on; the prospect of the minefield around a book about a character like Tintin, which starts to become public domain piecemeal, can surely only be more complicated!

*Not a lawyer, etc. don't rely on this!

Update: Here's an article which sets out the pitfalls for anyone looking to do James Bond (in Canada), including an interesting wrinkle arising from the creation of SPECTRE (the organization, rather than the film of that title)...
#6 · Posted: 11 Oct 2021 12:25
According to US copyright law of the time, the expiry on Land of the Soviets should be 95 years, making Tintin a public domain character.

so, for example, Steam Boat Willie, released in 1928, becomes public domain in the U.S. in 2024, not 2023

The expiry is 95 years unless Disney decides to try and change the laws to avoid having Mickey in the public domain - again. Yes, I said 'again'. They do this all the time. I do apologise if this is off-topic, but it's worth noting that (at least in the US), the public domain is getting harder and harder to reach because of Disney's greed. At this point, we're better off constantly sending vaguely threatening tweets to Peter Jackson until he gives in. (Also seconding what jock123 said about having to completely leave out what makes Tintin... well, Tintin, because of existing copyright.)

There is, however, a large chance that I pulled all of this directly out of my ass. All of what I know about copyright laws has to do with Australian music, as I am an Australian music creator. Take this paragraph as your official invitation to roast me, or to just gently educate me. Either way, I do think that Disney will try to bend the copyright law in their favour again. This might actually be a good thing for our pal Tintin over here, considering the observably problematic content in those first two stories.
#7 · Posted: 11 Oct 2021 17:15
They do this all the time.

Well, possibly twice... ;-)
I do apologise if this is off-topic

Not at all - it's all food for thought! However, it needs a bit of unpicking.
Firstly, Disney got the press and the headlines, but they were only part of a group of interested parties wanting length of copyright terms to be improved: the George Gershwin estate were also advocates of protecting his work, but newspaper headline writers like to talk about Mickey Mouse more than they do "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Rhapsody in Blue" (possibly because he's easier to spell than they are?).
Disney may have had a hand in it, but they didn't change the law by themselves, and were part of a far wider lobbying group.
the public domain is getting harder and harder to reach because of Disney's greed.

Is it really? The law hasn't changed in the last couple of decades, has it (I may have missed something, so please let me know, or expand upon it), so I don't think that it's "getting harder and harder", it's as hard - or as easy - as it's been since the "Sonny Bono" extension at the end of last century.
And I have a certain sympathy with them, to be honest; I'm not sure why if you own a factory or a farm, they are yours and your family's, in perpetuity, to continue generating income from for as long as you please to run them, but write a book or a play and they will fall out of your family's ownership, without recompense, at a mandated point (worse still, make a record and it may fall into the public domain while you're still alive). It seems lop-sided.
I mean, okay, it benefits me, personally, to be able to find a book on Project Guttenberg if I'm looking for something to read, but honestly, I'd benefit even more if I got free food from a public domain farm, don't you think?
Why shouldn't Disney continue to own Mickey Mouse? What makes them greedy, and Old MacDonald - running his grand-daddy's grand-daddy's farm - not?

But, anyway, the look of things is that Disney won't be attempting to lobby for anything this time, and that's already the way the wind is blowing across the landscape: the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and the Authors Guild - the three biggest organizations representing rights holders, and the people who in the past worked alongside Disney and the Gershwin estate for copyright extension - have all said that they are not pursuing the matter, most likely because they feel that they wouldn't win this time: the internet has made the position untennable, as there's online, organized advocacy against it happening.
Even if Disney did want to, I'd say they don't (in spite of the headline writers) have the clout to pull off something of the magnitude required to get significant change made.
The time-scale would work against them too - it's reckoned that it took about five years to get the last couple of copyright extensions through the U.S. legal system, so they really needed to get into action in 2018, and that just hasn't happened.
#8 · Posted: 14 Oct 2021 21:23
If they made a movie adaptation of Tintin in America in 2028 (it finished serialisation in 1932) it could only be shown in the US and other countries that have the same laws.

In some countries, the copyright term for works owned by a person is life + 50 years, and all of Hergé's works will become public domain on 1st January 2034. That is a slightly more realistic date for a Tintin movie based on the public domain to be released. In the US, they would have access to all of the stories up to The Black Island on that date too.

In Europe, the term is life + 70 years. All of Hergé's works will become public domain on 1st January 2054. In the US, any potential film makers would have access on that date to all of Hergé's works except for Tintin in Tibet, The Castafiore Emerald, Flight 714 to Sydney, Tintin and the Picaros and Tintin and Alph-art.
This is probably the earliest point that a public domain Tintin adaptation could be made and hope to be profitable.
#9 · Posted: 28 Aug 2022 14:05
Well here's the first test case for works entering the public domain - a new movie based on A.A. Milne's characters: Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.

There's also an article in Variety with the film-makers, adressing the copyright issues they faced, and the steps they took to avoid conflict.

Moderator Note: Given that this is a thread about copyright, we've edited your post to identify, and add a link to, the source of the quote you had given, which didn't appear in the Wikipedia article you linked to - so rather than have it here, people can go to the Variety piece and read it there.
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