San Francisco, Jan. 3 (Reuters): Peter Pan has flown into federal court in a copyright lawsuit over whether the rights to the legendary boy who vowed never to grow up have moved from Neverland to the public domain after more than a century.
Canadian writer Emily Somma has filed a pre-emptive lawsuit aimed at protecting her book, After the Rain: A New Adventure for Peter Pan, her lawyer said yesterday.
Somma filed the suit in US district court in San Francisco on December 20 in anticipation of legal action against her by London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The hospital, which was awarded the copyright to Peter Pan in 1929 by the character’s creator, Sir James Barrie, has demanded Somma stop publishing her book, claiming its rights run until 2023.
“We’re interested in making sure that people who own intellectual property don’t overreach,” said Elizabeth Rader, one of the attorneys representing Somma.
Somma’s book was published in September by Daisy Books, which is distributing it in Canada and the US.
The suit was filed in San Francisco because her attorneys claim the case concerns US copyright law, therefore, belongs in a US federal court.
They also say the London hospital has done business in California with the Peter Pan character.
The lawsuit argues that characters from Barrie’s Peter Pan books can be used in “derivative works” since they passed into the public domain in 1987, 50 years after the author’s death.
“Each adaptation can be protected, but you can’t keep the characters locked up,” said Rader, who is also a fellow with Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.
The hospital’s attorney, Alvin Deutsch, could not be reached for comment, but in a November 19 letter to Somma he said that the London hospital was the “exclusive copyright proprietor” and owner of Peter Pan characters.
Somma is also represented by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, who in October argued a case before the US Supreme Court challenging a 1998 copyright extension passed by Congress.
The 1998 Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act, extended the exclusive period that artists and corporations can control their creative works by 20 years, keeping rights to a wide range of material including poems by Robert Frost and early Mickey Mouse movies in the hands of their owners.
At stake in the copyright dispute are billions of dollars of entertainment-industry revenues.
Walt Disney Co. , which made Peter Pan world famous with its 1953 animated film, is one of the media companies that have argued for extended copyright protections.
Peter Pan was first mentioned in a 1902 book by Barrie and became the main character in a 1904 play first performed in London.
Somma’s After the Rain follows Peter’s adventure to Neverland to rescue Tinker Bell from The Keeper, an angry spirit, according to the publisher.