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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.