Copyright: the latest from Moulinsart

Dossier ~ Thursday 7th January 2010
Red Rackham's Treasure (1944) ]

We have got used to people contacting the press as a means to let everybody know about their displeasure with Moulinsart, the company that is responsible for maintaining and promoting the work of Hergé. It is a rare occasion that Moulinsart manages to get a word in. We are Moulinsart! Here is our opinion.

A few facts

Neither Moulinsart, nor any other existing company, invented copyright. Copyright laws have only been in existence for a relatively short time, and the notion of copyright differs greatly depending on the country in which it applies. The scope and definition of copyright has also changed radically since the time the law was first conceived. Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)  -  the ?Father of English literature'  -  wrote a lot of his work while officially employed as a financial controller for customs. While he received occasional grants for his writing (he was paid a gallon of wine a day for one poem!) his descendants never saw a penny from his work. Things have changed since then. In Europe and the USA, laws have been passed stating that an author's rights can be handed down to their descendants for a period of 70 years. Some people may consider this system to be outrageous, and yet the same people would never question the fact that children inherit their parents' houses and property.

Squatters don't have rights in an inhabited house!

IImagine that you are living in a house inherited from your parents. Imagine that someone you don't know arrives on the doorstep one day to announce: ?Since you didn't build this house, it belongs to everyone. I hereby exercise my right to move into one of the rooms. I will be doing some alterations to the building, and will rearrange all the furniture. Oh, and I will be renting it out; the rent will, of course, belong to me.' You probably wouldn't be very happy! It's exactly the same situation with an artistic inheritance: Tintin shouldn't be squatted!

The Calculus Affair p.61

Respecting freedom of expression

Some maintain that Moulinsart keeps an iron grip on the rights it has acquired; on the contrary, we are the first to respect the freedom of expression. We have never prevented anyone from writing a book about Tintin, or any other aspect of Hergé's life and work. We have total respect for authors! If the author of a book about Tintin wants to illustrate it with pictures or photos taken from the work or life of Hergé, then it is only normal that we ask to read the manuscript first. This is also simply a basic freedom. If a book is lacking quality or is intentionally negative, it is quite normal for us to feel that we shouldn't allow the reproduction of frames taken from Hergé's books, or drawings the author realised: if we were to allow the use of such images, we would give the impression of supporting the work in question. On most occasions, things don't go so far. It is worth noting that it is always possible to write books and papers about Tintin without using illustrations: although we may not share the views of the author, Moulinsart is never opposed to this type of work.

A few figures

Every year, hundreds of requests to use one or a number of pictures by Hergé are authorised, be they on behalf of academic art textbooks, magazines, newspapers, catalogues, etc. In 2009, less than 10 requests were turned down: less than 5% of requests! Of course it's less interesting talking about trains that arrive on time than to complain about delays, but it's worth noting the fact that Moulinsart authorises over 95% of requests, something that journalists never bother to mention. We clearly inform those who would like to use one of Hergé's drawings about certain rules which they are expected to honour. Landlords do just the same when they rent a room or a house to a tenant: they expect the tenant to abide by certain rules and to keep the property in good condition without undertaking building works.

The charts cover most of the diverted
The charts cover most of the diverted
The charts cover most of the diverted

Disagreements?

As explained, there are simple, clear rules which should be respected. There's nothing extraordinary in the fact that those who sidestep or break these rules run into problems and face repercussions. Imagine that a stranger in the street photographs you: you have the right to find out what the photo will be used for. Upon being told that it will illustrate a travel brochure, you may decide to give your consent for it to be used. Imagine your feelings if you were to discover that your picture appeared on the cover of a book entitled, The Face of an Incurable Fool: you would be pretty upset! It's the same thing in the domain of copyright. Whoever obtains the right to reproduce one of Hergé's drawings (or any other artist's work) commits to the rules that go with this right, even if at first glance the rules may appear to be of little importance. In this way, all disagreements can be circumvented and everyone remains friends. In other cases, the law decides how to resolve conflicts, and only the law is able to make judgements in this regard.

Tintin in the twenty-first century

Although Tintin is an icon of Belgian culture, who has also managed to make it big worldwide thanks to his intrinsic qualities, this doesn't mean that he belongs to everyone. It is common knowledge that a picture of Tintin on a book or magazine cover guarantees a rise in sales for the book or magazine in question. There are hundreds of comic strip characters, many of whom are largely forgotten often due to the indifference of those who hold the rights. It would be easy enough to use these characters to illustrate an encyclopaedia of comic strips, a parody or any other artistic creation, but pictures of these characters in a publication don't have the power to trigger sales in the same way as Tintin does: another important fact to take into consideration.That being said, at the outset of this New Year we would like to thank all those who show an interest in Tintin, in Hergé's work and in his museum located in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Thank you to Le Soir newspaper in Brussels, and to Le Monde for the splendid edition they created bringing together Tintin's Moon adventures. Le Monde also deserves recognition for the fantastic special issue it published with three different covers. We are grateful to Brussels paper Le Vif and to L'Express for taking part in the celebration of Tintin's 80th birthday in 2009, with top quality special issues. And, of course, many thanks to the millions of readers, friends and visitors to the website! Tintin is more dynamic than ever, and is still going strong at the beginning of the 21st century!

Hors-série L'Express December 2009 - January 2010
Hors-série Le Vif l'express September 2009
Hors-série Le Monde
Cover of the 1932 Petit Vingtième
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