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A Canada-based publisher that I work with is currently exploring the possibility of publishing a series of James Bond-themed novellas, now that the original Ian Fleming novels are in the public domain in that country.

I know the editor is doing a lot of legal research (ie. the 'movie Bond' is out of bounds as are all other elements from the films like Q, and the portrayal of certain characters) but I was just wondering if anyone on this site had any other insights.

So...

I want to submit, but being a writer not based in Canada, will this affect my chances?

Would they be able to distribute in countries other than Canada?

Will they actually be able to publish their own material?

EDIT: I've just learned that the publisher will NOT be producing e-books (just PoD paperbacks) as these fall under a very different set of copyright laws.

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Canada, like most major countries, is a participant in the Berne Convention, which is an international agreement governing the handling of copyrights regardless of the country of origin. The basic agreement is that all works are protected for 50 years after the date of publication or for 50 years after the death of the author. Since Ian Fleming, the author of the original James Bond books, died in 1964, the assumption is that his books are now in the public domain.

However, what many people tend to forget is that a copyright is considered tangible property, and as such, it can be passed on to heirs or other designated parties. The copyright for all of Ian Fleming's books fall into this category, and as such, they are still protected. Ian Fleming Publications Ltd "owns and administers the literary copyright in Ian Fleming's fiction and non-fiction books". This includes the right to any derivative works, which means that any books featuring James Bond or any other Ian Fleming characters may only be published through a licensing agreement with them.

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A detailed article by io9 treats this topic. The key points:

  • Yes, Ian Fleming's James Bond is in the public domain in Canada. Copyright law in Canada is life plus 50 years, and that applies to Ian Fleming's own works.
  • Derivative works, such as the James Bond movies, are not public domain. Their copyright rules start counting from their date of production, based on who had copyright on them (and it often was not Ian Fleming himself). This means that you are only safe working off Ian Fleming's original works, not any derivative work; you have to check each derivative work's status individually.
  • Whatever you produce in Canada had better stay in Canada. If your Canada-produced work leaves Canada (e.g., goes to Europe or the United States), then their copyright laws apply, and you could be sued for infringement for illegal distribution in those countries.
  • The prior rule might or might not apply to distributions on the web (as long as you're certain that the web server is in Canada); a law professor cited in the article above thinks that you would be safe on this one, but hey, that's what law courts are there to decide.

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