And the business of children’s bookselling and global copyright — and the joy of Dave Barry’s smart mouth (see the end of the excerpt!): Familiar Stories With Big Sales
In the age of Harry Potter, building a new children’s book franchise requires following a few simple rules: Stick with a popular genre like fantasy, right now the hottest thing going. Start with a familiar story. Rely on a proven cast of characters.
And it cannot hurt to have an author who is willing to dress up like a pirate.
Disney, it turned out, got two of those - Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, a wise-cracking duo of grown-up writers who, especially when wearing buccaneer’s hats and eye patches, seem little older than their preteen audience.
The pair brought to Disney’s publishing units one of the biggest children’s hits of the year, “Peter and the Starcatchers,” the first of a three-part prequel to J. M. Barrie’s classic, “Peter Pan.” The book is a long, digressive journey that by the end of the trilogy will attempt to answer the question, “Just how did Peter meet Captain Hook, anyway?”
[...] The stories have become more sophisticated as well. “We weren’t moved to do the guy in green tights,” Mr. Pearson said. “We made a conscious decision to take the story out of 1880 values,” avoiding the portrayal of Indians, for example, that makes the 1953 Disney film cringeworthy.
Still, there are unsettled details. “Peter and the Starcatchers” cannot be published anywhere in the European Union because that would violate the copyright of the original “Peter Pan” story, which is held by the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in Britain. Barrie, the “Peter Pan” author, donated the copyright to the hospital in 1929. In 1987, 50 years after his death, the copyright expired. The following year, Parliament extended the copyright in Britain in an attempt to give royalties to the hospital in perpetuity. But actions by the European Union to standardize copyright terms mean that the Peter Pan copyright will expire in 2007 in all of the union’s other member nations.
That is, unless the hospital succeeds in another venture. It is now soliciting ideas for a sequel to Peter Pan, one that it hopes will extend the copyright on the central characters for 70 more years.
Mr. Barry professes unconcern about the copyright questions. “The good news is the sick children will get none of our money,” he said last month - jokingly, of course. And he professes full faith in the Disney lawyers: “We figured the people who will kill you if you use Mickey Mouse without permission would be the best ones to figure it out.” [emphasis added]