Popeye the Sailor copyright expires in EU

December 31, 2008

(ChattahBox) — The copyright expires on Popeye the Sailor Man on January 1, 2009 and falls into the public domain in Britain under an EU law that restricts the rights of authors to 70 years after their death. Elzie Segar, the Illinois artist who created Popeye, his love interest Olive Oyl and nemesis Bluto, died in 1938. Segar’s premature death, aged 43, means that Popeye is an early test case for cartoon characters.  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.

The copyright expiration means that, from Thursday, anyone can print and sell Popeye posters, T-shirts and even create new comic strips, without the need for authorization or to make royalty payments in the EU. However, the character is protected in the US until 2024. US law protects a work for 95 years after its initial copyright. The Popeye trademark, a separate entity to Segar’s authorial copyright, is owned by King Features, a subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation — the US entertainment giant — which is expected to protect its brand aggressively.

The Popeye industry stretches from books, toys and action figures to computer games, a fast-food chain and the inevitable canned spinach. Though it is a myth that he was coopted to promote spinach by the US Government, spinach sales in America rose by a third in the decade after his appearance.

Ironically Popeye emerged during economic had times, becoming a Depression-era hero soon after he first appeared in the 1929 comic strip, Thimble Theatre. Segar drew Popeye as a “working-class Joe” who suffered torment from Bluto — sometimes known as Brutus — until he “can’t stands it no more”. Wolfing down spinach turned Popeye into a pumped-up everyman hero, making the case for good over evil.

During wartime, the Popeye tattoo was etched on thousands of soldiers and sailors, who aligned themselves with his good-hearted belligerence.


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