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  1. #1
    Spectacular Member James Cameron's Avatar
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    Default The public domain status of the Charlton characters and more

    Every bit of research I have done on the public domain status of the pre DC Charlton characters such as Captain Atom and Blue Beetle has yielded the response "probably not."

    And while I agree, I'm curious about the why and how. I'm no expert on copyright law and mind you, I have no plans whatsoever to make a comic or story featuring DC characters, but I found this quote interesting:

    Not a GA company but a mystery that was uncovered. In researching Blue Beetle renewals for Fox, the only copyright cards unearthed from 1955-1971 was for a song by the name of the Blue Beetle. At first the significance didn't hit me as I wasn't really expecting to see a renewal card for the Fox property. However, there should have been a few for the Charlton different titles and versions (4 different Blue Beetle titles) of the character. Not even a cross reference card. I looked under Charlton. Nothing for any of their titles. "Captain Atom" likewise turned up nothing. Were none of the titles registered? Or was there a different company name that they were filed under and no cross-reference cards were made under their main company name and individual titles? Nor is there any record of DC (or anybody else) renewing copyrights to the late 1950s and early 60s Charlton Material although titles post 1964 should be eligible for automatic renewal. Wrap your head around that one. This means that Captain Atom, the Question, Blue Beetle (whether he's the scarab powered Dan Garrett or the techno hero Ted Kord), ... may all be public domain. Or may not. One source indicates that 1964 as the starting point of when works would automatically be copyrighted if the work contains proper mark and notation without having to formally register with the Library of Congress. However, reading through the copyright law at the Library of Congress web pages, I cannot find proper notation to that effect. In the history and important dates section, there is no mention of important legislation at that time concerning copyright registration. However, re-reading various aspects of copyright law, it does seem that automatic protection to "published" works with proper notation may have been part of copyright law at least since 1909! A work would have to have been properly registered at some point during its first 28 years to have been renewed though. So, rule of thumb: Dan Garret Blue Beetle, yellow and orange/red Captain Atom are pd, the Dan Garrett and Ted Kord Blue Beetle, red and blue and silver Captain Atom are not. Least not til more research can be done.

    Nor is there any renewal information concerning their first BLUE BEETLE series (1955), SPACE ADVENTURES (1954/55 #13 & 14 with the Blue Beetle; 1958 #33, debut of Captain Atom), NATURE BOY, and MISTER MUSCLES.
    https://en-academic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/839503

    So if this is true-- can it seriously be assumed that someone could use DG BB and the original Allen Adam in their story without any legal response from DC? How exactly does this work and how can one find this out definitively? I understand that "it's DC, you don't want to do it either way" but I'm interested in discussing it regardless.

    There are several "fan made" publications out there of old Charlton, Fawcett, and Quality comics, including some old Captain Marvel stories! And I even read somewhere that the original version of Captain Marvel is public domain, but he can't be called Captain Marvel or Billy Batson or look like him, and can't be on the cover, and his character has to be based on the character in the specific issues that are public domain and not anything else. So if it's true, then CM jr would also be PD.

    Does anyone (with or without knowledge of copyright law) have any insight into this mystery?

  2. #2
    Ultimate Member Ascended's Avatar
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    My wife was the law student, not me, and she didn't cover this stuff in depth anyway. And I can't comment on the lack of verification or a paper trail, other than to say that this sort of thing wasn't always tracked very well back in the day, and paperwork might have been lost at some point over the decades and/or never updated to digital.

    However, under current copyright law, Steamboat Willie won't enter the public domain until 2024, and that cartoon predates Superman by a decade, so I don't know how or why Beetle or any other Charlton character would be public domain already.

    The trademark might have lapsed, the copyright might've lapsed and switched owners over the years (which is what the Captain Marvel name went through), but far as I know, no superhero is entering the public domain until Clark hits in 2034.

    Assuming the law isn't changed again, anyway.
    "We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe."

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  3. #3
    Spectacular Member James Cameron's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ascended View Post
    My wife was the law student, not me, and she didn't cover this stuff in depth anyway. And I can't comment on the lack of verification or a paper trail, other than to say that this sort of thing wasn't always tracked very well back in the day, and paperwork might have been lost at some point over the decades and/or never updated to digital.

    However, under current copyright law, Steamboat Willie won't enter the public domain until 2024, and that cartoon predates Superman by a decade, so I don't know how or why Beetle or any other Charlton character would be public domain already.

    The trademark might have lapsed, the copyright might've lapsed and switched owners over the years (which is what the Captain Marvel name went through), but far as I know, no superhero is entering the public domain until Clark hits in 2034.

    Assuming the law isn't changed again, anyway.
    This is my thinking as well. As far as I know, no other publisher has used the Charlton characters (except I think Dynamite had a Blue Beetle that went under a different name) . But there is the "public domain superheroes" wiki that lists both Ted and Dan, Allen Adam, and Captain Marvel and lists the issues they appear in that are in the public domain. So do the people on this site just not understand copyright law? Are they getting this information somewhere? Or is it all made up?

    And how is something like this able to be published
    https://www.amazon.com/Captain-Atom-...s%2C104&sr=8-4
    without the publisher facing legal repercussions?

  4. #4
    Ultimate Member Lee Stone's Avatar
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    Digital Comics Museum is the most trusted site for public domain comics and info.
    They painstakingly ensure that all the comics they host are within the public domain and they block anything from being added that isn't, to make sure the site remains operational.

    According to them, the Ted Kord Blue Beetle isn't in the public domain. But, then, they keep a blanket stopping point for Charlton of 1959.

    And there's this article: https://diocletianscomiccsorner.word...e-blue-beetle/

    However, I believe I've seen mention that the Charlton versions of the Question, Captain Atom and Ted Kord Beetle may be in public domain because Charlton failed to put a copyright notice in the comics.
    Last edited by Lee Stone; 05-28-2022 at 07:51 PM.
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  5. #5
    Incredible Member Captain Nostalgia's Avatar
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    Sigh I wish they were. I don't think the Charlton characters have been treated very well under DC ownership. (Peacemaker of late aside)

    It would almost be better for some of them to be picked up by Dark Horse comics, or a smaller indie comic. At least you would get to see them in action regularly.

  6. #6
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    Not a lawyer but it may be possible that somethings might enter public domain sooner than others.

    Steamboat Willie is the debut of a character that is the official mascot of Disney, they have a financial interest in keeping a monopoly on everything connected to Mickey Mouse. Superman is one of DC's main properties, they have court cases to keep the Siegel and Shuster estates from getting back rights. Neither Disney nor DC's owners at the time missed any deadline to renew the protections.

    I doubt anyone has spent the past 80+ years keeping an eye on the rights of every other character introduced in cartoons or comics around 1930-1935. It seems a lot of comic book heroes not owned by Marvel or DC didn't renew the necessary protections- it's why Dynamite can use many of the Project:Superpowers character and Image was able to use some of the same characters. No one was making money off the Black Terror trademark or copyright and no one expected they ever would so no one wasted time and money protecting those things after the character vanished from the public eye. DC itself let the trademark expire on the name Captain Marvel (creating the SHAZAM! problem) and I think there is a similar issue with Phantom Lad that allowed her to be used by a few other pubishers. Not beyond belief that Charleton might not have similar issues with Blue Beetle who had three incarnations which may not all be covered by the same rights.

  7. #7
    Invincible Member Digifiend's Avatar
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    DC did no such thing re: Captain Marvel, that was Fawcett, his original owner. DC had sued them due to similarities to Superman, and Fawcett cancelled their comic book line as a result, letting the trademarks lapse. In 1968, Marvel created their own Captain Marvel. In 1971, DC licensed the Billy Batson character and launched Shazam!, and then acquired Fawcett's characters fully in the 80s. DC is to blame for the name problem but isn't actually the one who let the trademark expire.
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  8. #8
    Mighty Member Jody Garland's Avatar
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    One of the most common ways things entered the Public Domain early before things changed in the 1970s was failure to put proper copyright notice in the works. case in point, the original Night of the Living Dead *launched* into the public domain because the distributer cut the title card it opened with that had the copyright indica on the first frame that was required. Laws were real draconian back then, and a single mistake would cost you teh entire work. With that in mind, it's not impossible that a comic company that was known for being somewhat slapdash would mess up somewhere.

    Blue Beetle is a bit different, though. The original Blue Beetle is almost certainly in the public domain by now, but that's not Ted Kord, or even Dan Garett. The original Blue Beetle was published by Fox Features Syndicate Comics all the way back in 1939 and was Dan Garet (one T). He was a cop who took a super vitamin (Vitamin 2-X! Very retro-future) to get slight powers like Hourman and had a chainmail vest. The archeologist and Scarab stuff was all Charleton. That shows the confusing nature of what's public domain- you have to make sure it's the right *version* of a property.

  9. #9
    Ultimate Member Ascended's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James Cameron View Post
    This is my thinking as well. As far as I know, no other publisher has used the Charlton characters (except I think Dynamite had a Blue Beetle that went under a different name) . But there is the "public domain superheroes" wiki that lists both Ted and Dan, Allen Adam, and Captain Marvel and lists the issues they appear in that are in the public domain. So do the people on this site just not understand copyright law? Are they getting this information somewhere? Or is it all made up?

    And how is something like this able to be published
    https://www.amazon.com/Captain-Atom-...s%2C104&sr=8-4
    without the publisher facing legal repercussions?
    I think it goes without saying that the posters here don't understand copyright law. There might be a lawyer or two here who actually know what they're talking about but the majority of us are just repeating whatever we've heard and picked up from whatever sources we have, whether they're legit or not.

    As for that book on Amazon.....since the Nathaniel Adam version that DC introduced after buying up the Charlton IP is a slightly different version, it's possible the original did fall into the public domain under a previous version of copyright law before it was updated the last time (1996, I think it was?). I honestly don't know.

    Golden Age comics can be difficult to track, as far as their legal standing goes. The history of the Captain Marvel name is enough to give anyone a headache. But assuming the OG is indeed in the public domain, there's still other issues to consider, like trademarks and film rights and all manner of stuff. It's one thing to reprint the stories in the public domain, quite another to attempt to use that character "actively" yknow?
    "We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe."

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  10. #10
    Mighty Member Jody Garland's Avatar
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    Not only that, but reprinting public domain works is a lot different than reprinting public domain stories. I would have mentioned this in my first post, but it totally slipped my mind. A lot of Charleton stories slipped into the PD because they weren't renewed prior to the DC purchase in the mid-80s. That's what has allowed Gwandanaland and other outfits to reprint the stories. It's the same mechanism that's allowed the Fleischer era Superman shorts to be put into dollar store DVDs of other PD cartoons for a while now. That doesn't mean the character of Allen Adam is public domain though, any more than Superman is.

  11. #11
    Ultimate Member Robotman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jody Garland View Post
    One of the most common ways things entered the Public Domain early before things changed in the 1970s was failure to put proper copyright notice in the works. case in point, the original Night of the Living Dead *launched* into the public domain because the distributer cut the title card it opened with that had the copyright indica on the first frame that was required. Laws were real draconian back then, and a single mistake would cost you teh entire work. With that in mind, it's not impossible that a comic company that was known for being somewhat slapdash would mess up somewhere.

    Blue Beetle is a bit different, though. The original Blue Beetle is almost certainly in the public domain by now, but that's not Ted Kord, or even Dan Garett. The original Blue Beetle was published by Fox Features Syndicate Comics all the way back in 1939 and was Dan Garet (one T). He was a cop who took a super vitamin (Vitamin 2-X! Very retro-future) to get slight powers like Hourman and had a chainmail vest. The archeologist and Scarab stuff was all Charleton. That shows the confusing nature of what's public domain- you have to make sure it's the right *version* of a property.
    When Dynamite Comics did their Project Superpowers story featuring public domain characters they used Dan Garret but didn’t directly call him Blue Beetle. He was referred to as “Big Blue”.



    Could they potentially call him Blue Beetle in the comics but obviously not on the cover?

  12. #12
    Mighty Member Jody Garland's Avatar
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    Yeah, DC has the trademark on Blue Beetle and Marvel has Daredevil. That's why those two characters in Project Superpowers got renamed, since it was just easier than to do a Shazam situation for characters the reader is just being introduced too.

  13. #13
    Ultimate Member Robotman's Avatar
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    DC can use the name Captain Marvel inside the comic but not on the cover or movie posters, etc.


    Does that mean the Blue Beetle name can be used inside the comic?

  14. #14
    Mighty Member Jody Garland's Avatar
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    Yeah, that's what I meant by Shazam situation. In the eyes of Dynamite, it's not worth the effort, or potential litigation that requires court just to throw out, to call them Blue Beetle or Daredevil on the cover. However, look over at Savage Dragon for a counter example, where Eric Larson has used a bunch of public domain characters, including the Golden Age Daredevil, without changing their names. He's actually used a bunch of characters DC has acquired over the years, including Quality's Uncle Sam, Fawcett's Bulletman and the Fox Features version of the Phantom Lady. The chance of them needing the associate trademark though is pretty nill, so that's probably why he didn't rename them to get a unique trademark.

  15. #15
    Extraordinary Member Zero Hunter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Nostalgia View Post
    Sigh I wish they were. I don't think the Charlton characters have been treated very well under DC ownership. (Peacemaker of late aside)

    It would almost be better for some of them to be picked up by Dark Horse comics, or a smaller indie comic. At least you would get to see them in action regularly.
    I think DC's handeling of them is the only reason anyone knows who they are these days. Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and The Question all carried series for years. Nightshade and Peacemaker have been faetured on and off on teams since they were aquired. Even after their solo series ended Cap and BB were mainstays in DC's falgship team book for years. If anything without DC these characters would more than likely be for the most part totaly forgotten these days.

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