- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) 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 Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London already has warned Miss Somma to halt publication of "After the Rain: A New Adventure for Peter Pan," which has been published in Canada and can be purchased over the Internet.
A lawyer for the hospital claims Miss Somma's efforts to publish a work without paying royalties are depriving the hospital of revenue it needs to treat sick children.
Miss Somma's lawyer, Elizabeth Rader, said the author has offered to pay royalties but was rebuffed.
The impending legal battle is part of a growing debate over copyright material.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in October in a case that seeks to release closely held creative property ranging from music such as George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" to books by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald into the public domain.
The copyright to Peter Pan and its characters was awarded by the original creator, Sir James M. Barrie, to the hospital in 1929.
U.S. copyright protection for Mr. Barrie's works, including "The Little White Bird" a Peter Pan prototype and the popular children's play "Peter Pan" normally would have expired in 1987, a half-century after Barrie's death.
In a letter ordering Miss 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.
Miss Somma's lawyer disputes the logic and the math.
"They have a theory that spells out to that year," Miss Rader said, "But I don't see how it adds up."
Miss Somma's "After the Rain," in which Pan is brought home from Neverland to grow up, was published by Hamilton, Ontario-based Daisy Books.
The Canadian edition of "After the Rain" largely went unnoticed until Miss Somma began soliciting publishers in England, Miss Rader said in a telephone interview Monday.
A British act of Parliament extended royalty rights there to the hospital in perpetuity; Peter Pan falls within the public domain in Canada.
"All intellectual property owners police their property aggressively," said the lawyer, a fellow with Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society. "They often assert more than they can get."
Mr. Deutsch wrote in his letter to Miss 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.
Mr. Deutsch could not immediately be reached for comment on Miss Somma's suit, which was filed last week in San Francisco federal court.
Miss Rader took the case along with a colleague, Stanford law professor Larry Lessig, who argued the case heard by the Supreme Court in October that challenges a 1998 law extending copyright protection an additional 20 years for cultural works.
The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, known as the "Mickey Mouse Extension Act" because it extends Disney's protection on its popular cartoon character, protects movies, plays, books and music for 70 years after an author's death.
Mr. Lessig brought the case on behalf of Eric Eldred, who had been posting work by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James and others on his Web site. Mr. Eldred lost his case at trial and on appeal, but managed to persuade the Supreme Court to hear the case.


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