Britain's Telegraph reported this week that Popeye the Sailor, the beloved comics strip and cartoon character created by American cartoonist Elzie Segar, will become public domain in the European Union beginning January 1, 2009. E.U. law protects copyright for 70 years after an author's death, and Segar passed away in 1938.
According to the Telegraph, Britain's copyright law is such that starting Thursday, anyone can sell merchandise like posters and T-shirts using Segar's Popeye artwork, and even create new Popeye comics, without permission and without having to pay any sort of royalty.
However, British intellectual property experts draw a distinction between copyright and trademark, the latter of which, with respect to Popeye, is still owned by King Features. Attorney Mark Owen told the Telegraph, "The Segar drawings are out of copyright, so anyone could put those on T-shirts, posters and cards and create a thriving business. If you sold a Popeye toy or Popeye spinach can, you could be infringing the trademark."
American copyright laws differ from those of the E.U., and Popeye remains protected in the U.S. until 2024, ninety-five years after the character's initial copyright.