Ask an expert: Copyrights and wrongs

Ask an expert: Copyrights and wrongs McGill University

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McGill Reporter
October 26, 2006 - Volume 39 Number 05
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 39: 2006-2007 > October 26, 2006 > Ask an expert: Copyrights and wrongs

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Copyrights and wrongs

Tarzan
Jack Ruttan

Q: Can anyone publish stories featuring famous literary characters like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Tom Swift and Zorro? Producers of a recent Zorro movie sued to stop a competitive Zorro production of copyright grounds.

—Mark Shainblum
Faculty Communications Officer (Science)

Richard Gold, Director of the McGill Centre for Intellectual Property Policy, responds:

A: You are quite right that there can be copyright not only on books, but on the characters to which they give life. Copyright lasts for 50 years (70 years in the U.S.) beyond the year of death of the author. Since Zorro first appeared in a work by Johnson McCulley who died in 1958, the copyright on the Zorro character still exists in 2006. Therefore, even some characters that have been around for a long time may be subject to copyright. In addition, if a character is remade in a new work — such as in a film or new book — there will be a copyright in that updated character that could be used to prevent reproductions for an even longer period.

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