hospitals rights to Peter Pan

08 December 2004

Daniel Lowen

Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital is hoping that Peter Pan will fly once more in order to safeguard the royalties it receives from the character. A century after Never Never Land was put on the map, the hospital is searching for an author to write a sequel to JM Barrie’s 1904 classic book.

The philanthropic author gifted the copyright in the story Peter Pan to the hospital. However, copyright in the creation will lapse in 2007 in Europe, and in 2023 in the United States. Given the reduction in royalties that the expiration of the copyright around the world would cause, the fresh copyright in a sequel represents an attractive source of income for the hospital.

The position in the United Kingdom is somewhat different. The hospital holds the copyright in the stage version of Peter Pan in perpetuity by virtue of an exceptional clause in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. Although the UK copyright originally expired in 1987, an amendment under Section 301 and Schedule 6 of the Act confers upon the hospital’s trustees a perpetual copyright in UK performances of the work. Any person performing the work or a substantial part of it in public, publishing it commercially or broadcasting it is required to pay royalties to the hospital.

In addition, the original copyright was revived under the Duration of Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations. Until 2007, when the revived copyright would expire were it not for the special provisions of the Act, Regulation 24(6) prevents an overlap between the general rights of the copyright owner under Section 16 and the more limited rights conferred under Schedule 6 of the Act. The Regulation provides that the obligation in Schedule 6 to pay royalties to the hospital is exhaustive of the duties of a person to pay remuneration for exploitation of the work covered by the perpetual copyright.

The granting of perpetual copyright in the play seems even more noteworthy given that the Act abolished certain well-established perpetual copyrights. Unpublished works, and books given to universities and colleges, no longer attract perpetual copyrights as had been the case since the Copyright Act 1775.

The hospital is running a competition to find an author to revive Peter Pan and it is hoped that the sequel will be published in 2005. In the meantime, the hospital is also involved in a legal dispute in the United States following the publication of a derivative work entitled After the Rain, A New Adventure for Peter Pan. The author, June Emily Somma, claims that the original characters are now in the public domain. Following a settlement conference in July, the case has been referred to a settlement management judge. If settlement negotiations are not successful, a trial will go ahead in late 2005.

Also published in November issue of World Copyright Law Report and in the October/November issue of Licensing Executives Society "News Exchange".