From The Digital Reader:
With older stories and characters like Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Barsoom, and Buck Rogers increasingly protected by trademarks and not copyrights, it is becoming more and more important every day that anyone following digital publishing news understand the distinctions between these two parts of IP law, and how trademarks can be used to lock down works that have otherwise fallen into the public domain.
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Earlier this year a filmmaker by the name of Don Murphy who had been hoping to make a movie based on the 87-year-old public domain story Armageddon 2419 AD filed a lawsuit against the Dille Family Trust, the legal entity that controls the IP of the author, Philip Francis Nowlan.
Murphy asked a judge to declare that the story was in the public domain.
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As I explained back in August, it is possible to hold a valid trademark on a work whose copyright has expired. For example, this is how the Burroughs estate maintains control over the Barsoom series.
Do you recall the execrable John Carter of Mars movie from 2012? After it bombed at the box office, the rights reverted from Disney to the Burroughs estate (or so the estate claimed; I am unconvinced that the IP claims are valid).
The trademark issue is important to this Buck Rogers lawsuit because while the copyrights may have expired, the trademarks might still be valid. A tv series based on Buck Rogers was produced in the 1970s, which means that there could be trademarks on elements from the stories.
This movie that Murphy wants to make might contain elements that violate the estate’s trademarks. We can’t know that for sure without seeing the movie, but we also can’t summarily discard the possibility.
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All I can say at this time is that when we hear of an author’s estate acting as a copyright troll, we can’t assume that only copyrights are involved. The trolls are now using trademarks to their advantage.
Link to the rest at The Digital Reader