Tintin and the French Copyright Affair

Belgian cartoon icon Tintin, created by Hergé in 1929, was arguably one of the most beloved fictional heroes of the 20th century. The comic strips follow the adventures of the young reporter as he investigates dangerous stories. Over 200 million copies of his adventures have been sold and he will soon also be the subject of a new film from Steven Spielberg, “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” in 2011. 
In 2005 and 2006, French Tintin fan, Bob Garcia, wrote five essays on Tintin, which were published by Promocon. Although they were distributed by Garcia and Promocon on a non-profit basis, the current successor in interest to Hergé, Nick Rodwell, has brought an action to prevent the distribution of Garcia’s works.
On 22 May 2008, a French court in Nanterre held that the Hergé drawings included in two of Garcia’s essays were by way of graphical citations to illustrate the text, in full compliance with the 1974 Berne Convention (ratified by France).  However, in the appeal decision handed down on 17 September 2009, a court in Versailles has rescinded the initial ruling and has ordered Garcia to pay €40,000 (plus expenses) for injury to the author’s moral and proprietary rights.
Commentators have expressed concern about the Versailles court’s judgement, noting that Garcia has even been ordered to remove images of Tintin from his essay entitled “Jules Verne et Hergé d’un mythe à l’autre”, despite the fact that no Tintin graphics appear in that essay.  Some Tintin fans have also threatened a boycott of the new Spielberg film in response to the ruling.  

The case demonstrates the difficulties copyright owners face in balancing their rights with the interests of fans.  If it were to apply to Australia, then the spoof cartoons of Kevin Rudd, derived during the last election, could find themselves in trouble…

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