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Betty Boop Public Domain — Are Early Looney Tunes Next?
March 2, 2011

As reported at Cartoon Brew, a judge has ruled that just because a company has a trademark on a current version of a character (in this case, Betty Boop), they cannot stop people from using previous art that is now public domain (out of copyright). Quoting the key point, but visit the link for a full report:

The Fleischer Studio tried to sue Avela Inc. over its licensing of public domain Betty Boop poster images (for handbags and T-shirts). The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (based in San Francisco) ruled against the Fleischers, saying in their decision, “If we ruled that AVELA’s depictions of Betty Boop infringed Fleischer’s trademarks, the Betty Boop character would essentially never enter the public domain.”

Yay for a court supporting the idea of public domain over perpetual intellectual property ownership. In the comments, animation historian David Gerstein points out how this might affect another long-running cartoon favorite:

What I take from the judge’s ruling is that the trademark only applies to new, modern uses of the character. It can’t be used to stop people from redistributing old PD Betty images/items. Fleischer tried to say trademark trumped copyright; the judge is saying that it doesn’t. This is actually pretty major. In recent years, Warner has used the active trademarks on Looney Tunes characters to quash third parties’ reissues of PD 1930s/40s Looney Tunes content (of which there is a lot). If the Betty decision is not reversed on appeal, then Warner is stripped of its strongest weapon against the public domain.

Similar Posts: More on Public Domain: Disney and Warner Fight Over Wizard of Oz § Looney Tunes Spotlight Cartoon Clip § Betty Boop Products Include Banking § Betty Boop Does New Lancome Mascara Ad § Sherlock Holmes Officially Public Domain

4 Responses  
Grant writes:  

“Yay for a court supporting the idea of public domain over perpetual intellectual property ownership.”

Well, it is the 9th circuit after all. Aren’t they overturned like every other decision? ;)

 
Diana Green writes:  

In purely aesthetic terms, this is very bad for the Boops, as it opens the door for yet another wave of bad 4th generation dupes on DVD. The Fleischer Bettys haven’t had a proper reissue since the beautiful Republic VHS tapes (!) of 1996 (!!).

 
Johanna writes:  

I was surprised to find out that there’s no good copy available, although based on the Cartoon Brew thread, there’s interest in one.

 
Robert writes:  

This is good news. Trademark shouldn’t be an end-around copyright expiration. Nothing prevents people from selling high quality Betty Boop DVDs. If people want them, they will buy them. If people would prefer the $1 poor quality DVDs, they can choose those. These trademarks should be void with the expiration of copyright – copyright was important enough to include in the Constitution, after all. To allow any entity to control works forever simply leads to stagnation. But even if you consider these trademarks valid, having the content widely enough distributed that people still remember it can only extend the value of your trademark.

 
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