August 29, 2003 · Lessig
The Stanford CIS has been working on a case for a long time to establish the public domain status of Peter Pan. (The Internet has apparently already recognized it. Check out the Google search on Peter Pan). We represent a Canadian author, Emily Somma, who has written a sequel to the public domain portions of the Peter Pan story, called “After the Rain.” Somma was threatened by the rights holders of the Peter Pan-related work still under copyright. The essence of their claim is that so long as anything Peter Pan related is under copyright/trademark protection, everything is. (The rights holder is a children’s hospital in England, which has meant (1) that service of our complaint has been severely delayed by the UK government, and (2) that we get lots of nasty letters from people who think a charity should have the right to do whatever it wants so long as it benefits children. I’m all for charities, and especially for charities benefitting children, but threatening an author who is simply building upon the public domain is not the stuff a charity should be doing.)
ANYWAY, while practicing my Danish (not really: I am totally language illiterate) I came across another wonderful example of this increasing practice.
According to this story, there’s a Danish character called “Gummi-Tarzan” (I think this is an image) that has been forced to drop “Tarzan” from its name by the ever-pleasant Disney Corporation. This because Disney believes it owns “Tarzan.” This because Disney has trademark protection in a bunch of Disney work that builds upon Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Tarzan,” even though Burrough’s Tarzan originates from 1914, and is therefore within the public domain. Nonetheless, from now on, Gummi-Tarzan must be referred to as Gummi-T.
The public domain was supposed to be a lawyer-free zone. So much for how things were supposed to be. (Thanks to Joergen Ramskov and Thomas Wesley Hinton for porting the story into a form that the I could understand.)