Skip to Content

Will Batman enter public domain?

Batman is one of the most iconic superheroes, having been featured in comic books, TV shows, movies, and video games for over 80 years. With his origins dating back to 1939, some have wondered when Batman will enter the public domain.

When do fictional characters enter public domain?

In the United States, for works published after 1978, fictional characters enter the public domain 95 years after the date of first publication. So for Batman, who first appeared in May 1939, he would enter public domain 95 years later in 2034.

However, there are some important caveats. Copyright can be renewed during the last year of protection, extending it another 67 years. Also, derivative works can extend copyright protection. So Batman’s many incarnations in comics, shows, films etc. continuously renew his copyright.

What are the key Batman copyright dates?

Here are some key dates for Batman’s copyright:

  • May 1939 – First appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27.
  • 1966 – Batman TV series starring Adam West premieres, creating new derivative work.
  • 1989 – Batman film directed by Tim Burton released, refreshing copyright.
  • 2005 – Batman Begins film released, again renewing the copyright.
  • 2022 – Current expiration is 95 years from 1939, which would be 2034.

As long as new Batman works keep being produced before that 2034 date, the copyright will likely be extended further. There are also trademarks on the Batman name and logo which are independent of copyright.

What happens when a character enters public domain?

When a fictional character finally does enter the public domain, that means the character can be used freely by anyone without permission. For example:

  • New comics, movies, shows, merchandise could be made by anyone.
  • The character could appear in creative crossovers and mashups.
  • Creators could reinterpret or remix the character without limits.

Entering the public domain allows iconic characters to be reimagined and find new life. However, for lucrative franchises, companies aim to extend copyright as long as possible with new works.

Will copyright law change before 2034?

Copyright terms have been extended before, most notably with the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. This added 20 years to most copyright terms. Further extensions are likely to happen before Batman’s current 2034 expiration.

Disney in particular has lobbied strongly for copyright extensions to keep early Mickey Mouse cartoons from entering public domain. Batman is unlikely to enter the public domain until at least the 2050s, and perhaps not until the 2080s if term extensions continue.

Could WB lose the Batman copyright?

It is highly unlikely Warner Bros would ever lose their copyright on Batman, even if they stopped producing new works featuring him. Well before 2034, they would almost certainly lobby Congress for another copyright extension to maintain their ownership of the lucrative property.

If by some remote chance WB did lose the rights, they would likely still retain trademark on Batman’s name, costume, and logo – allowing them to still restrict some uses of Batman by others. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Batman ever fully entering public domain while WB exists.

Conclusion

While Batman should theoretically enter public domain in 2034, seventy-five years after his first appearance, it is almost certain that new copyright extensions will be passed before then. Warner Bros has a multi-billion dollar incentive to keep Batman under their control for as long as legislatively possible. Barring any drastic changes to copyright law, Batman won’t be free for public use any time in the foreseeable future.