February 21, 2012
What happens when good stuff goes into the Public Domain

One hundred years ago, this month, Edgar Rice Burroughs published the first story about John Carter and his adventures on Mars, known as Barsoom to it's inhabitants. The story was hugely popular and launched his legendary career.

Soon after this, he wrote Tarzan, and began a career of writing wonderful fiction series that inspired many in the 20th century in both science and literature. Ranging from Pellucidar, the hollow Earth, to Venus, to the Moon, the stories focused on adventure in new worlds. Hugely successful, Burroughs was wealthy enough to buy a ranch estate in Southern California large enough that it literally created the city of Tarzana around it. Burroughs died in 1950 and the age of 74. Personally, I've read many of his stories and have come to love them, especially the Barsoom series.

The laws of copyright are complicated and elude my understanding when it comes to figuring out exactly when stories leave copyright and enter the public domain. Regardless of my understanding, somehow, much of Burroughs early work has entered the public domain. Several years ago, I printed my own edition of A Princess of Mars.

Today you can see what happens when good stories enter the public domain.

Besides the widely advertised movie of John Carter, there are five different comic book series and a new book of short stories.

Top left: Warlord of Mars by Dynamite Comics - Retelling the basic John Carter story
Top middle: John Carter: The World of Mars by Marvel Comics - A prequel story to the soon to be released Disney movie
Top right: Under the Moons of Mars - An anthology of new short stories taking place on Barsoom by various authors
Bottom left: Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom by Dynamite Comics - Tales of Barsoom from before John Carter arrived
Bottom middle: John Carter of Mars: A Princess of Mars by Marvel Comics - Retelling the basic John Carter story
Bottom right: Warlord of Mars Dejah Thoris by Dynamite Comics - New adventures of a scantily clad Dejah Thoris

A sixth comic, John Carter: Gods of Mars is coming out later this year.

As you can seen, a literal plethora of new art, stories, and interpretations of the story of John Carter and Barsoom happening, 62 years after Edgar Rice Burroughs died, helping to introduce a new generation to his wonderful work.

Much of this is due to the stories falling into the public domain, allowing new artists and writers to get involved in the world of Barsoom. The publishing world has not collapsed and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. is doing fine still licensing content, selling merchandise, and holding conventions, 62 years after the original author died.

On the back of the Under the Moons of Mars book is this statement.

Clearly, this effort is a sign of the future as more stories fall into the public domain. Imagine how great it would be to have new takes on Superman, Mickey Mouse, and Bugs Bunny by various artists and writers. Clearly we have a while to wait until some of those fall into the public domain, but what we see about John Carter is a good sign.

Of course, nothing is simple when money is involved, so recently the Estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs sued Dynamite for trademark infringement, which is different than copyright. As the legal battles continue, I will be happy to read everything and help pay this generation's artists and writers for their work in continuing the story of Barsoom.

If you want to read the original stories for free, visit the Project Gutenberg where much of his work is available in a variety of digital formats.

Posted by michael at February 21, 2012 06:59 AM