Buck Rogers and the Copyright Trolls, Plus a Redux

While the articles I'm about to link to specifically focus on the legal drama that has unfolded over the creation of a Buck Rogers movie and are not directly related to SSI's classic Buck Rogers cRPGs or TSR's Buck Rogers XXVC tabletop RPG, I think it's worth keeping up to speed on where the Buck Rogers copyright stands as it will have implications on any future titles and even digital re-releases of the originals on services like GOG.com. That's why I'll point you over to this article on Boing Boing that is followed up by a redux on The Digital Reader, the pair of which detail the turmoil over whether a husband and wife from Pennsylvania own the rights to the character:

The Trust is represented by Louise Geer, who, along with her husband Dan Herman owns a small law practice in New Castle, Pennsylvania (Herman also runs a boutique comic book company called HERMES PRESS). They managed to continue licensing the Buck Rogers character by controlling trademarks and because many of the familiar elements of the character were introduced in the comic strip.

Enter Don Murphy, producer of NATURAL BORN KILLERS, REAL STEEL and all of the TRANSFORMERS films (also the guy who's optioned LITTLE BROTHER for Paramount, incidentally). He is the Les Klinger of Buck Rogers.

Murphy, with his company Angryfilms, was trying to make a Buck Rogers movie, but was unable to make a deal with the Trust. He then decided to focus his attention on the public domain ARMAGEDDON novel, feeling that the Buck Rogers (brand" didn't mean that much to today's filmgoers and wasn't necessary for the story. He even retained Flint Dille, a gamer, screenwriter and most interestingly, the grandson of John Dille, to co-write the screenplay.

Soon after the announcement of the ARMAGEDDON 2419 film, Geer and Herman began to barrage Murphy with threatening letters, claiming they owned the Nowlan novel, either to shut the movie down and/or extract a rights payment. They even threatened Dille, who is one of the beneficiaries of the trust itself!

Murphy responded by filing suit in court, asking for a judgment that the Nowlan novel is in the public domain. Furthermore, he asked (as Klinger did with Holmes) for a declaration stating that since the character of Buck Rogers has his origins in the public domain novel, the character itself is therefore in the public domain and all trademarks for it should be voided.

Geer and Herman, like all good copyright trolls, have attempted to get the suit tossed out of California on venue issues and moved to New Castle. They are being represented by David Aronoff, who regularly takes on these types of cases and boasts on his website about his attempt to assert a claim for a Zorro copyright, despite that work having entered the public domain.