Grumpy Old Bookman has an interesting post about Peter Pan and copyright. Many people know that Great Ormond Hospital owns the rights to Barrie's work, still collecting royalties and protecting Peter from the adults.
Now there are a slew of new books about him, ranging from Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg (about which I wrote here)to Peter and the Starcatchers and Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth. Seems simple, doesn't it? It's not.
Apparently, the Hospital is claiming that simply writing about the characters is a violation of copyright (which runs through 2007 in Europe, and 2023 in the US). Without getting into the whole "if copyright ends earlier in Europe than the US, what does that mean for my royalties and people that shop at Amazon.uk?" issue, the question of who owns the characters is critical.
Disney is notorious for going after people that use their characters, but they don't pretend to own Snow White or The Little Mermaid - just the images they've created of those characters. Ditto Peter Pan and Tink (I remember seeing her fly around during the opening of Sunday night's Wide World of Disney show).
But what about these three books? How much do they owe to the Hospital for using the characters created by Barrie? Do they owe anything - legally or morally? With copyright continually being extended, I suspect this issue will crop up more and more. While in some cases it's good (some books just shouldn't be written!), in terms of stifling the creative spirit, it's bad. In terms of artistic freedom, it's bad. Particularly if the artist/writer in question isn't directly copying the original, but creating a new work that can stand on its own.