Not authorized, but is it legal?

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AAUGH Blog reader Debbie Anne pointed out to me the announcement of this curious upcoming volume, Charlie and Friends in Tip Top Comics – The Dell Series Reader Collection. This is a reprint of original Peanuts stories that appeared in the Tip Top series, and will be available in black-and-white and color editions … and hey, wait, didn’t Boom! just put those in a nice big full color hardcover book? Yes they did. (And that Boom! book is a much better deal for a lower price at this point, with many more pages. These guys are saying their still missing a couple of story pages they want to reprint) So the Peanuts folks are licensing this competing edition? No… but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s illegal.

The publisher, Gwandanaland Comics, seems to have discovered something I noticed when I looked into it years ago. To the best of my not-a-lawyerly abilities, it looked like United Feature, the syndicate which held the copyright on these original tales (and owned Peanuts outright for most of its run) never renewed their copyrights. Y’see, for works originally published in the US before 1964, copyright only lasted 28 years. If, after 28 years, the copyright owner renewed the copyright, they got a lot more years… but there was a limited window when renewals could take place. As the 28 year terms were running out on these in the 1980s, United Feature wasn’t (to the best of my ability to detect), renewing them. That doesn’t mean that other intellectual property protection doesn’t apply to it – notice how the cover never uses the term “Peanuts” or “Snoopy”, and says “Charlie and Friends” but not “Charlie Brown”; those terms are still trademarked.

If Peanuts Worldwide wanted to put a halt to this, would they have a way to, using, say, the separate copyright that exists on the characters? I really don’t know, I’m not a lawyer… but there are enough DVDs out there of things like the public domain Superman cartoons that I assume it would not be a slam-dunk case.

By the way, that “cheap B&W edition, very expensive color edition” gambit makes it pretty clear that this is a print-on-demand item. (That’s not a complaint; I do plenty of print-on-demand publishing myself.)

The same publisher offers a collection issues of this Tip Top run including not just the Peanuts material but other material as well (notably Nancy and Sluggo) n both black and white and color.

Note: this post has been updated; originally it said that the book had not yet been released, but it was released on the day this was posted.

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