• http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Brad Stone’s article ends with some speculation and an assertion: “What about a League of Extraordinary 20th-Century Gentlemen? Tom Swift joins with Doc Savage, the Shadow and Nancy Drew. Folks would pay a lot of money to see or read that story. But it couldn�t happen. Those heroes are all locked up under copyright.”

    So my question is about why he thinks it’s impossible to license the likenesses and characters in question from the appropriate copyright holders, and whether anyone has tried. Given that “folks would pay a lot of money” for this story, it seems not unreasonable to share a bit of it.

    I suspect this is speculation on Mr. Stone’s part, and not a matter of fact.

  • http://pobox.com/~joehall joe

    the comic kicks butt… great bus/bart/caltrain reading… if you start to collect them now and read them one by one… you’ll be just in time for the release of Volume 2, Issue 6 (the last one in volume 2) in early august.

  • Nick

    It is, of course, speculation as a matter of definition. But given the difficulty the makers of LXG had in getting permission for some of the characters in this movie, and given the history of the copyright cartel, it’s a fairly reasonable assumption that there would be no way on earth you could convince the rights holders of these 20th-century characters to all agree on anything.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    The answer to copyright-fight questions is one word:



  • http://suppafly.livejournal.com Zach

    Brad Stone sure rips on a pretty good movie.. I guess if you have unrealistic expectations of a movie resulting from the comic book it was based on, you may not like it, but everyone I talked to thoroughly enjoyed LXG.

  • Phoenix Woman

    How badly does this movie stink? Even Harry Knowles, whose standards for action flicks are looser than most critics — and who, while he has read the LEG books, is a strong proponent of the don’t-compare-the-book-to-the-movie school of film criticism — was ultimately frustrated by this mess of a film.

    I knew the movie was going to stink the minute I found out that Mina Murray’s character had been watered down and siliconed up. In the comic books, she’s the leader of the League — and while shorn of a husband who couldn’t handle her “soiled” status, still remains human. (The budding relationship between her and the fundamentally honorable and caring Allan Quatermain is one of the highlights of the last two comics.) In the movie, she’s just so much vampiric MTV-style arm candy for Sean Connery to drool on.

    This movie makes Will Smith’s Wild Wild West fiasco look good.

  • http://home.telepath.com/~hrothgar/telae_tabulae.html Timothy Phillips

    What is the legal basis to the statement that Tom Sawyer had to be called “agent Sawyer” and that the Invisible Man had to be called “an invisible man” ? Mark Twain died in 1910, did he not ? Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are P.D. throughout the E.U. as well as in the U.S. What would prevent a filmmaker from extrapolating an adult Tom Sawyer from the character portrayed in those two novels ?

  • Shem

    As a Doc Savage fan, I can tell you that Stone is spot-on in respect to him, at least. Numerous proposals for reviving Doc, whether in comics, on TV, or in a movie, have been floating around for years, but they all founder because Conde Nast, who own the rights, demands exorbitant licensing fees and no one wants to pay them without assurance they’ll recoup the money. And since movies about period heroes, like “The Shadow” and “LXG,” have tanked, this is unlikely to change — even though in both cases, the failure was more due to bad writing and acting than the characters themselves.

    No one even wants to reprint Doc’s adventures, which Bantam formerly republished in paperback from the ’60s to the ’80s. These books are growing expensive and impossible to find on the used-book market. So a character who was once the second most popular pulp hero, ranking behind only the Shadow, has been all but forgotten. I don’t really see how this benefits American culture or the memory of Doc’s creator, Lester Dent.

  • http://businesslawyer@blogspot.com Win

    OK, I’m sympathetic to the cause of limiting the copyright monopoly to some reasonable time. But why should anyone care about the ability of a new author to recycle (or even revitalize) old characters? Shouldn’t we be encouraging creators to create new characters rather than to ride the coattails of the classics?

    Devil’s advocate.

  • http://home.telepath.com/~hrothgar Timothy Phillips

    One point of Moore’s comic was the tension between conformist ideals and “extraordinary” individuals. Additionally he was examining some of the moral ambiguities of empire-maintenance. Hence he has the British Empire defended by extraordinary people who straddle the line between being heroes and being monsters. Using famous literary characters of the period adds an additional layer of irony: Victorian Britain depending on its worst nightmares for its survival. Using pre-existing characters is an effective way to do this. (I vaguely recall a recent movie, I think by Disney, in which John Henry, Paul Bunyan, and Pecos Bill all appeared to promote an environmental message: interesting compare-and-contrast).

    Additionally there may be an element of play, a “where’s Waldo” sort of game with the reader when Moore includes cameo appearances by other famous literary characters, or where he imagines futures for some of the characters–divorce for Mina Harker, opium addiction for Quatermain–that are at odds with how the original authors portrayed them. (I don’t think Haggard’s Quatermain was an opium addict, though I may be mistaken on that point. I know that Stoker’s Dracula ends with Mina and Jonathan still married, and with a son, Quincy.) Part of Moore’s point is that the happy ending imagined by Stoker for Mina–or required by his readership–is not necessarily what we would expect Mina herself to have considered a happy ending. Using the pre-existing character, rather than a “substantially similar” character, is an efficient way of making this point.

    On my own earlier question, it seems that H.G. Wells’s works have been restored to copyright in life+70 countries, i.e. western Europe except for Switzerland, so that the film must clear the rights for The Invisible Man in those countries, or use “an invisible man” instead. That they can use the latter approach illustrates one complaint that some commentators have made about the film: where Moore’s comic actually used famous characters from gaslight-era literature, the characters in the film, according to these critics, are simply generic action heroes with famous names.

    The idea that copyright required Tom Sawyer to be called “agent Sawyer” is likely to be a mistake. The actor who played “agent Sawyer” according to one interview I’ve seen, thought he was playing Tom Sawyer, but this is inconsistent with Twain’s novels. Twain’s Tom Sawyer was born before the American Civil War. The young man portrayed in the LXG film (the action takes place around 1899) can’t be the same individual. Maybe it was this chronological difficulty the screenwriters were trying to work around by calling their American “agent Sawyer.” Maybe they see him as Tom Jr.

  • Karl Davis

    “Shouldn�t we be encouraging creators to create new characters rather than to ride the coattails of the classics?”

    What’s a new character? Tom Sawyer much more “new” when Twain wrote the first story using the name than when he was written into this movie. Consider this page to see the various sources and pretexts from which Twain drew to ‘create’ Sawyer.


  • http://ethanol.blogspot.com Evan

    I’m puzzled by the legal reasoning in this article too.

    When the film rights for The Invisible Man was purchased in 1930, the book was still under copyright and they would have needed to license the character and story. But now the book is in the public domain. Copying the movie would clearly be an infringement, but licensing a comic book which is derived from the book seems to my non-lawyer self to be perfectly kosher.

    The article suggests that the acquisition of film rights in the 1930s essentially reset the clock on the character’s copyright in the medium of film. That sounds bizarre (though it wouldn’t be the first time something in copyright law sounded bizarre to me).

    I can understand why a businessperson would want to avoid being sued for copyright infringement even if the suit were baseless and frivolous–there can be a chilling effect even on noninfringing uses. Is that what they’re talking about? Or does the law really say that you can’t make any movies of the Invisible Man until the copyright on the movie runs out?

  • Rich

    �Shouldn�t we be encouraging creators to create new characters rather than to ride the coattails of the classics?�

    When Disney made Cinderella, or Snow White, or their other (now beloved) classic animations, they “rode the coattails off the classics” except what they did was use creativity to add new elements to the old tales (dancing animals, etc.) People loved these new variations of the old stories. And that’s how the public domain was supposed to work.

    New characters are great too, but as the article on LXG pointed out, if you wanted to do what Moore did for 20th-century characters, it would be very cool to see Doc Savage team up with Nancy Drew — except it will probably never be allowed. What Disney did back in the 30s and 40s is almost impossible to do today. That’s what this is all about.

  • http://www.modcult.org/fcs/ finn

    eerily similar to this article on The Morning News, and both articles were put on the web the same day.

  • Anonymous

    It looks as though some Friday posts were lost, as well as some late-Thursday posts.

  • http://www.wachman.com Jake Wachman

    Hello all — This blog transfer turned out to be more of an adventure than I had anticipated. We decided to move everything, not just the blog. I will try to reconstruct the missing posts once I transfer all of Larry’s content to the new servers. Please email me with any broken links or other problems.

  • Paul

    There are much better examples of the use of public domain than this. I was just listening to some exerpts from Kismet on the radio with music lifted (with acknowledgement) from Alexander Borodin. Remember �Stranger in Paradise�? More people have listened to Borodin melodies in film or musical versions than in the original chamber music.

    Someone should start collecting a list of major works of western culture created by virtue of access to the public domain. I think we would all be astounded to learn how large the list is. I don�t think Shakespeare wrote a single work without lifting a plot from somewhere else.

    (originally posted on Jul 24 03 at 4:59 PM)

  • http://kidbritish.org/ Kid British

    �Shouldn�t we be encouraging creators to create new characters rather than to ride the coattails of the classics?�

    Homer rode the coattails of the classics (of his time) when he wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey. Likewise with Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Shakespeare rode the coattails of Ovid, and numerous people have ridden the coattails of Homer, Ovid, and Shakespeare.

  • Bryan McCormick

    �Shouldn�t we be encouraging creators to create new characters rather than to ride the coattails of the classics?�

    The problem with this statment is that knowledge and ideas are built upon earlier knowledge and ideas. It’s almost impossible to create a new idea in a vacuum. New ideas can be twists to old ideas, extensions of old ideas, new applications of old ideas. Ask any artist what their inspiration was and your asking upon what framework of ideas did you extend to create this new idea.

    I think the great difficulty with intellectual property is that with all ideas being built upon each other, it becomes very difficult to seperate them out. Like the earlier post about the problem with telling if the rights to the invisible man belonged to the movie or the book. If you have an incredibly creative new idea, who determines how new New has to be to truly be a different idea or just a derivative work. Right now it’s the courts, and they’re having a hell of a time.