LOS ANGELES (CN) – Spaceman Buck Rogers is in the public domain, so a film company doesn’t need permission from the heirs of his creator to make a movie about him, a Hollywood producer claims in Federal Court.
The spaceman came to life in the 1928 story “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” by Philip Francis Nowlan. He was called Anthony Rogers in the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, a pulp magazine that printed many pioneers of science fiction.
Nowlan and the John F. Dille Co., later known as the National Newspaper Syndicate, hired Dick Calkins as illustrator and changed the hero’s name to Buck Rogers for a comic strip that appeared in newspapers on Jan. 7, 1929. It blossomed into a film series, TV and radio series, other formats and spinoff spacemen, such as Flash Gordon. Before astronauts became real, Buck Rogers was a common name for a spaceman across the United States. Nowlan, who was president of the Dille and National Newspaper Syndicates, died in 1940.
Team Angry Filmworks sued Nowlan’s descendant Louise A. Geer and the Dille Family Trust on Tuesday in Federal Court. Its president Don Murphy claims production credits for “Natural Born Killers,” the “Transformer” movies and other gems. He says films he helped produce have brought in more than $4 billion at the box office.
Murphy claims Buck Rogers entered the public domain in the United States in or about 1956 and worldwide in or about 2010. He says Geer and the Dille Family Trust threatened in writing on July 28 to sue him if he made a movie based on “Armageddon 2419 A.D.”
Copyright law has evolved since Buck Rogers was created. At the time it was limited to 14 years, with one renewal.
Team Angry seeks declaratory judgment that Buck Rogers and the Armageddon story are in the public domain.
Its attorney Charles M. Coate was not available for comment Wednesday. Nor were Greer or representatives of the Dille Family Trust.
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