Can Rights Holders Create Derivative Works of Their Original Works if they're in Public Domain?

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  • I stumbled upon an article earlier today talking about Superman, Batman, Mickey Mouse, and other characters entering public domain soon because their copyrights are expiring. The article later stated that the legal status of this is going to raise a lot of questions because those characters have many later works that are still under copyright protection. I'm starting to imagine a scenario where Marvel, DC, Disney, Warner Bros, and other studios and publishers are going to say "Fuck all of the legal murkiness! Let's put everything in public domain and then create our own derivatives!" Can anyone else see that happening? Would that solve a significant amount of legal issues? Would these companies be willing to do that if it came down to it? I'd be willing to support that for the most part, because it'd allow the public to finally do whatever they wanted with those characters and financially prosper from it, while allowing the original rights holders to still maintain some level of ownership over their work, and continue to financially prosper from it as well.

    Unfortunately, here are also problems I can see happening:

    A) All of those characters have generated billions for those companies over many decades, so putting them in public domain is the esentially flushing all of that money down the toilet. (True, they could recoop that money by selling derivatives, but it wouldn't be the same money.)

    B) If people aren't clear with the terminology, that can lead to a legal shitstorm if Joe Schmoe and Marvel both create a derivative of Spiderman.

    C) When other forms of media are made, there could be some unfortunate confusion created for the average person.

    What do you think about all of this?

  • I don't know much about the world of comics, but my guess is that rights holders would come to any rationale to keep the characters protected by copyright for as long as possible.  They can make money on derivative works without Superman in the public domain because by keeping the rights, they can dole out permissions and collect royalty fees (which they probably won't).

    Post replyOthers may have thoughts.


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