Popeye is now public domain – at least in Europe

At the first of this year, the Popeye character entered into the public domain in Europe. In the US, the copyright is still in play until 2024 because US law protects works for 95 years after the death of the creator instead of the 70 years that Europe observes. That said, King Features still owns the marketing rights to the image, which might be cause some legal conundrums for those wishing to use Elzie Segar famous creation.

The question of whether any enterprising food company can now attach Popeye’s famous face to their spinach cans will have to be tested in court.

While the copyright is about to expire inside the EU, the character is protected in the US until 2024. US law protects a work for 95 years after its initial copyright.

The Popeye trademark, a separate entity to Segar’s authorial copyright, is owned by King Features, a subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation – the US entertainment giant – which is expected to protect its brand aggressively.

Mark Owen, an intellectual property specialist at the law firm Harbottle & Lewis, said: “The Segar drawings are out of copyright, so anyone could put those on T-shirts, posters and cards and create a thriving business. If you sold a Popeye toy or Popeye spinach can, you could be infringing the trademark.”