Writer claims characters' copyrights expired

SAN FRANCISCO — Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, has been dragged into the adult world of federal court.

Canadian author Emily Somma has filed suit in San Francisco claiming the characters in “Peter Pan,” including Tinker Bell, Wendy and Captain Hook, are now in the public domain and no longer protected by a copyright awarded in 1929.

The suit is a pre-emptive move in anticipation of legal action by the British hospital that currently holds the copyright to Peter Pan.

The Great Ormand Street Hospital for Sick Children in London already has warned Somma to halt publication of “After The Rain: A New Adventure for Peter Pan,” which has been published in Canada and can be purchased through the Internet.

In a letter ordering Somma to halt publication of her book, the hospital’s lawyer, Alvin Deutsch, contends that a 1976 U.S. law extended the copyright protection for Peter Pan until the year 2023. The letter claims that Somma’s efforts to publish a work without paying royalties is depriving the hospital of revenue it needs to treat sick children. Somma’s lawyer, Elizabeth Rader, said the author has offered to pay royalties but was rebuffed.

The London hospital has authorized a series of films based on the original Peter Pan, including Walt Disney’s 1953 animated “Peter Pan,” and “Hook,” the Stephen Spielberg adaptation of the classic tale of never-ending childhood.

Lawyer Deutsch wrote in his letter to Somma that Walt Disney has been authorized to produce several Peter Pan-related projects on the condition the hospital reap a share of the royalties. The impending legal battle is part of a growing debate over copyright material and when copyright extensions are applicable.

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