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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 · Edited by: Moderator
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 · Edited by: jock123
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 · Edited by: Furienna
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 · Edited by: jock123
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)...

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