When it comes to rights (and wrongs), the relationship between Moulinsart and the rest of the world has always been troublesome. When somebody appropriates an aspect of the works of the late Hergé, however small and for whatever reason, the current owners of the rights to said works are quick to cry foul, throwing around cease-and-desist letters, threatening with (and sometimes executing) legal prosecution and generally ignoring the more subtle aspects of intellectual and property law.
In that respect, a recent ruling in the case of Moulinsart against Arconsil by the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Evry, France, is quite interesting. The case in question concerns a series of novels, Les Aventures de Saint-Tin, parodying the adventures of Tintin and the world in which the quiffed reporter wanders around. The books, written by the French authors Gordon Zola and Bob Garcia and published by Arconsil under the imprint, Le Léopard Démasqué, typically carry titles that refer to one of Hergé’s books, and sport covers which clearly aim at immediately making a connection with them through typography and illustration style.
(a very familiar looking cover for Gordon Zola and Bob Garcia’s Aventures de Saint-Tin, published Le Léopard Démasqué)
Moulinsart had asked to have the publication of the novels cease immediately, claiming that the authors and publisher had appropriated and even counterfeited the works of Hergé and had caused damage to Moulinsart by suggesting an association between the Tintin books and these “mediocre works” (for more, see this ActuaBD article, in French).
The court, which ruled on July 9th, was not of that opinion. It ordered Arconsil to pay a fine of no less than 40,000 Euros to Moulinsart for causing economic damages through parasitism, but it cleared the publisher of all charges of couterfeiting. Moreover, it granted Arconsil the right to distribute the existing titles and lifted the seizure of the publisher’s stocks.
(author Bob Garcia, pic borrowed from ActuaBD’s article)
On Comics news site ActuaBD, Nicholas Anspach explains that this judgement may be paradoxical, but right: it recognizes the element of parody in the Saint-Tin books, and authorises their distribution, but it also acknowledges that the closeness of the books to Hergé’s oeuvre amounts to parasitism, and may cause damage to Moulinsart’s interests by association. In other words, the court acknowledges the right for people like Zola and Garcia to parody Hergé’s works (just like Frederic Tuten did in his 1993 novel, Tintin In The New World), but it condemns the systematic use of Tintin, Haddock and the other characters for economic purposes.
The ruling puts Arconsil a bit in a tight spot. It had counted on publishing 23 novels in the Saint-Tin series (one more reference to the Tintin series, which also counts 23 finalised books), and has been given the right to do so. Still, it will have to pay a steep fine to Moulinsart for each title it publishes, as this will amount to breaching the court’s ruling. (based on this article from ActuaBD)
Wim Lockefeer lives in Belgium and worries that one day he may be sued simply for typing the name ‘Tintin’ in a blog; you can read more of Wim’s thoughts on comics and art on his Ephemerist blog.