Popeye Now Public Domain in EU—Mickey Mouse Next?

Did you know? Starting today, Popeye enters public domain in Europe, according to their copyright law that protects an author's rights only until 70 years after their death. Popeye's creator Elzie Segar died young at the age of 43 in 1938, only 9 years after Popeye made his first appearance in a 1929 comic strip.

In the US, however, which protects rights for 95 years after the author's death, Popeye will remain copyrighted until 2024.

So what does this mean? Well, here's where things get a bit muddy. Bear with me as I'm not a lawyer, but while the copyright has expired, the trademark for Popeye as an intellectual property remains owned by King Features, a subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation. Some things are still out of public reach. Mark Owen, an intellectual property specialist at the law firm Harbottle & Lewis, told UK paper The Telegraph earlier this week:

“The Segar drawings are out of copyright, so anyone could put those on T-shirts, posters and cards and create a thriving business. If you sold a Popeye toy or Popeye spinach can, you could be infringing the trademark.”

“Popeye is one of the first of the famous 20th-century cartoon characters to fall out of copyright. Betty Boop and ultimately Mickey Mouse will follow.”

Will Mickey Mouse follow? That's the big question right now, because as we all know, there's no way in hell Disney would let that happen. The Walt Disney company had been instrumental in the past in lobbying to extend copyright laws. Popeye might actually be an interesting testing ground for what's to come, to see if they can keep the character protected through its trademark.

Then again, if we're talking about Disney here, the prospect of winning a legal battle against them is suspect. They will let North Korea invade Tomorrowland and set it up as a rising communist nation before they allow Mickey to fall into public use. Remember, these are people who would sue daycare centers.

Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.


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