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. identicon
    JustSomeGuy, 12 May 2021 @ 8:59pm

    Nom de guerre?

    Isn't that name of war? Did you mean non de plume (name of pen), a more common phrase for a author pseudonym?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 May 2021 @ 9:27pm

    "why can't fellow artists and content producers understand that the same protections that protect their work also apply to other artists?"

    The trillion dollar question, mainly its a belief that they are better than others therefore deserve more.

    Insert politicians, political partys, evangelicals, etc...
    Its almost like its a human condition everyone wants to pretend isn't something they do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2021 @ 10:04pm

    Re: Nom de guerre?

    i took it as a reference to litigiousness and maybe his artistic attitude as well.

    meta: i love good typos: non de plume. that's what Hergés wstate wishes on Marabout.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2021 @ 10:06pm

    Re: Re: Nom de guerre?

    and see right here - wstate. example of non-intersting typo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 12 May 2021 @ 10:07pm

    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.

    Can we get that in the US?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2021 @ 10:13pm

    Re:

    i always thought tintin would sue the vault boy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    mvario (profile), 12 May 2021 @ 10:45pm

    Estate of?

    What's the difference between an "estate of" and a copyright troll? Are there any "estates of" that are anything but groups that chase down and collect money for works created by dead people?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    PaulT (profile), 12 May 2021 @ 11:28pm

    Re: Nom de guerre?

    Depends who you ask...

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pen_name

    Etymology
    The French phrase nom de plume is occasionally still seen as a synonym for the English term "pen name": this is a "back-translation" and originated in England rather than France. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, in The King's English[1] state that the term nom de plume "evolved" in Britain, where people wanting a "literary" phrase failed to understand the term nom de guerre, which already existed in French. Since guerre means "war" in French, nom de guerre did not make sense to the British, who did not understand the French metaphor.[2] See also French phrases used by English speakers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    ryuugami, 12 May 2021 @ 11:33pm

    “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

    Maybe he should Google "doujinshi" ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Andres (profile), 13 May 2021 @ 1:49am

    Just a quick correction to the title, there's no fair use in European copyright law, it's either called fair dealing, or just parody exception.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. 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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2021 @ 6:38am

    Re: Estate of?

    Not particularly. In a way, copyright trolls are more honest. They at least had to buy up the rights of a work they plan on trolling over while estates just suddenly find rights thrust into their hands one day and they're all, "it's about time I'm able to cash in on Famous Relative's stuff so I can get cash I don't have to work for!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2021 @ 10:05am

    Hergé absolutely did every last thing he could to keep women entirely out of his comic strips

    What does this mean? If it's his strip, isn't "don't draw them" the first and last thing he needs to do?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    sumgai (profile), 13 May 2021 @ 10:18am

    Re:

    Do I have to?

    No, you're excused from this exercise. However, if you wish to earn 5 extra credit points.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    nasch (profile), 13 May 2021 @ 2:19pm

    Re: Estate of?

    Are there any "estates of" that are anything but groups that chase down and collect money for works created by dead people?

    Of course. All the ones that don't get in the news because they're just doing what estates are supposed to do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2021 @ 6:14pm

    Simple solution. Out Tintin as gay or ace and claim that any representation of him interacting with the fairer sex is deeply offensive. Problem solved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2021 @ 11:09pm

    I had gotten the impression that the creator did everything possible to keep any trace of humor out of the comic strip. Never noticed the lack of women.

    I'll admit that the Tintin I've seen kicked my ADD-addled mind into full walkabout mode, so I probably missed stuff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2021 @ 8:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Nom de guerre?

    "Non-intersting" is also non-interesting, but has some potential.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2021 @ 8:38pm

    Re: WOW, "Andres"! Your comment is worth crawling out for!

    Andres: 27 (2.4), 52 month gap; 24 month gap; 28 Jan 2010 https://www.techdirt.com/user/technollama

    And WHERE are the fanboys noting this FOUR YEAR GAP? -- This proves fanboys noticing a prior long gap was just more astro-turfing so can say not all the zombies are pro-Techdirt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2021 @ 9:28pm

    Re:

    Apparently Bianca Castafiore doesn't count.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2021 @ 7:06pm

    Re: Re:

    Wipe that John Smith off your face, blue, nobody needs to see that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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