Estate Of 'Tintin' Comic Creator Loses On Fair Use Grounds To Artist Putting Tintin Alongside Women

from the comic-con-job dept

By way of a throat clearing, there are a couple of things you need to know about Hergé, the nom de guerre for the artist behind the well-known Tintin comics of yore. First, Hergé's estate has found its way onto Techdirt's pages before and has a reputation for being wildly restrictive and litigious over any use or reference to Tintin. Alongside that, you need to know that Hergé absolutely did every last thing he could to keep women entirely out of his comic strips. His reasoning for this can be best summarized as a combination of having a too much "respect" for women to include them in his humor comic... and also that women, according to his estate, were "rarely comic elements." Women, in other words, are bad for humor.

So it makes perfect sense that a modern artist decided to create new material featuring Tintin in romantic or risqué settings with women and both parody and commentary on the original works. And, likewise, it makes perfect sense that the Hergé estate sued over it.

In Breton artist Xavier Marabout’s Hergé-Hopper mashupsTintin is variously painted into Hopper’s Road and Houses, scratching his head as he greets a woman in a car; looking disgruntled in a version of Hopper’s Cape Cod Evening, 1939; and kissing a girl in a car, in a spin on Hopper’s Queensborough Bridge, 1913. On his website, Marabout describes his work as “strip art”, in which he “strips distant artistic universes to merge them together” in a style where “parody [is] omnipresent”.

But the Moulinsart company, which manages the Tintin business, disagrees, accusing Marabout of reproducing the world of Tintin without proper consent.

“Taking advantage of the reputation of a character to immerse him in an erotic universe has nothing to do with humour,” a lawyer for the company said in court in Rennes this week, where Moulinsart has sued for infringement, as reported by Ouest-France.

Thankfully for the entire world, lawyers are not generally considered the arbiters of humor. And there is good reason for that. Most fair use equivalents throughout the world carve out specific exemptions for parody and commentary for this very reason. New artists seeking to provide social commentary, through humor or otherwise, need the room to produce that commentary. The upturned nose of some estate lawyer somewhere is not supposed to be a barrier.

With that in mind, Marabout's rebuttal to the suit is roughly what you would expect.

In response, Marabout’s lawyer claimed the paintings were parody, reported Ouest-France, and cited a “conflict between copyright and freedom of expression and creation”, asking: “Does an artist have the right to wonder about Tintin’s sex life?” and “what about artistic freedom?” The Rennes court will rule in May.

Marabout told the Guardian that his work echoed the historian Christian Jacob’s belief that “there is no cultural transmission without reappropriation”.

Imagine a world in which an artist couldn't create artistic commentary on a socially important icon simply due to copyright law. More to the point, imagine one artist attempting to restrict artistic commentary from another on those same grounds. It's absurd and negates the way that art and commentary are made, not to mention that it hand-waves the importance of that commentary to society.

Fortunately, it appears that the French courts agree.

On Monday, Moulinsart’s complaint was rejected by the court in Rennes. “The court recognised the parody exception and the humorous intention expressed by my client,” Marabout’s lawyer, Bertrand Ermeneux, said.

The Rennes court also said that Moulinsart had “denigrated” Marabout by contacting galleries showing his work to say that it was infringing, Huffington Post France reported, adding €10,000 (£8,500) in damages for Marabout and €20,000 in legal fees to its ruling.

Given how the legal system has let the Hergé estate run roughshod over others in the past, this is as good an outcome as one could hope for. To not only see the suit tossed, but to see Moulinsart punished monetarily for his bullying ways is a breath of fresh air.

Still, we're left with the never ending question: why can't fellow artists and content producers understand that the same protections that protect their work also apply to other artists?

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Filed Under: commentary, copyright, culture, france, herge, tintin

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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 13 May 2021 @ 4:20am

    Imagine a world in which an artist couldn't create artistic commentary on a socially important icon simply due to copyright law.

    Do I have to?

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