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When does Conan the Barbarian become public domain?

Today is January 1st 2020.

The creator of Conan the Barbarian Robert E. Howard died on June 11th 1936.

The first Conan the Barbarian story appeared in weird tales in 1932. At the time of that publication the copyright duration for works that complied with all of the requirements had a rather lengthy copyright, and thus could enjoy 95 years of copyright before they become public domain. So he becomes public domain on January 1st 2028.

However this topic is disputed. Depending on who you talk to, which copyright law they are quoting, and which country, the public domain for Robert E. Howard's work varies wildly.

For example:

"Within the United Kingdom, as in many other countries, the works written by an author fall into the public domain 70 years after their death. Since Robert E. Howard died in 1937, all his original works, including those featuring Conan the Barbarian, will be in the public domain from 1st January 2007."

Source - en.m.wikisource.org/wiki/Author_talk:Robert_Ervin_Howard

Note that the above source couldn't even get the year of his death/suicide correct. They have him dying in 1937 when he actually died in June 1936.

It also follows U.K. law, which in turn follows the date of the author's death. However since the character first appears in Weird Tales in 1932, and was published in the USA, why should U.K. law even matter? The copyright should be following the laws of the country it was first published in.

Furthermore the companies that now own the rights to Conan the Barbarian (and other works by Robert E. Howard) are jealously protecting their ownership of the copyright. Namely by suing anyone who tries to publish new Conan works.

However there are holes in the copyright...

If a work is published in Europe, for example, they can ignore American copyright laws. But they cannot sell anything they make in the USA.

Which means that if someone wants to publish something on Amazon Kindle or similar locations the companies who own the American copyright can sue anyone who is violating their copyright.

That is until January 1st 2028.

Thus a countdown is on. You can expect a slew of writers to be released new Conan books and short stories on January 1st 2028. Exactly 8 years from today.

However there are other ways to write barbarian stories about characters who are similar to Conan or nearly identical.


#1. Simply don't use the Conan name.


Myself I have several characters who are similar to Conan, but each have their own names and personalities, and they exist in a fictional world of my creation. So I own all the copyrights for them.

  1. Wrathgar, Son of Wulfric
  2. Wulfric the Wanderer

Of those two characters the one who bears the most similarities to Conan the Barbarian is Wulfric the Wanderer, who appears in the following book: "Black Monoliths of Al-Kazar", but also in other books within the Wulfric the Wanderer series. As the name implies he is a wanderer, sort of like "The Man with No Name", who wanders from town to town, righting wrongs and having adventures as he travels around like a vagabond. However Wulfric is also a time traveler, and as such he also travels to different time periods using time portals which allow him to travel to various points in history.




Wrathgar, Son of Wulfric meanwhile is a more archery and wilderness focused character. His stories focus more on a realistic use of woodsman skills, hunting, tracking, and stories that follow the barbarian's skill set, which sometimes involve solving murder mysteries. Wrathgar currently appears in multiple novels on Amazon, both paperbacks and ebooks, and new Wrathgar books come out every year as part of the Adventures of Wrathgar book series.

So that is what I have done with respect to create unique and interesting characters (and other characters that don't fit into the Sword and Sorcery subgenre). But what else can people do?



#2. Change the Name only Slightly. eg. "Konan"

I think this is a lame idea myself, hence why I never went in this direction.

Simply calling the character Konan to me is a silly idea. Or Conann. Or Conen. Or whatever spelling you want to use.

It just feels wrong to change his name like that.

Presumably authors would also need to change the world he is in too, as the world of Conan the Barbarian is also copyrighted.

#3. Use the Conan name, but your story is a Parody

Conan the Librarian for example. Parody.

Any time a character is used in a parody it bypasses copyright law as it makes fun of the original character. By being a parody the character is also changed somewhat and becomes comical.

#4. Use the Conan name, but don't sell them for a profit.

If the books or stories are free, then people can read them for free, share them, etc. If for example someone wrote a free web series of books people could access the books for free. They could, in theory, even have a Patreon account for donations from patrons that go towards supporting the writer to create more stories, but does not directly result in sales of the copyrighted character.

I have thought about doing the Patreon thing and writing a web series, but I would be doing it for characters of my own creation. I would not bother doing it for Conan or other characters who are soon to become public domain. (I have a hunch there will be a deluge of new Conan books that become available in 2028. The market will likely become flooded with self-published Conan books by a wide variety of authors.)

No... My preference is to wait, and maybe not even bother.

Wait the 8 years and then if I am still interested in doing so I could publish Conan stories like the many other authors who might all be doing it at the same time.

Honestly I think my best option is to focus on method #1. Write my own characters, set in my own world, and I own all the copyrights. I may really like Conan as a character, but going my own way is really the best solution in my opinion.

All of the original Conan stories by REH were published between 1932 and 1936. Less than a five year period. During that time period he published 17 short stories, novelettes and novellas, and various other stories were published after his death.

I could spend the next 8 years, and decades into the future, writing a wide variety of Wulfric the Wanderer stories. If I ever get bored of the Sword & Sorcery subgenre (although I doubt that will ever happen) I can always switch to writing something else.

Hypothetically I could devote my entire writing career to writing nothing but Wulfric stories, writing and publishing one new piece every month of the year. Maybe more. Over a career spanning 40 years that would be 480 stories. Or more depending upon productivity.

I know I will not do that, but it is hypothetically possible.

And I know I won't do it because I have other writing projects I am working on instead. Some of them are more Wulfric stories, but there are also Wrathgar novels, as well as other novels, novellas and short stories that have my attention currently.

So as much as I like Conan, I have my plate full. I am very busy writing all manner of stories.

And to my fellow writers who hold a similar affection for Conan I recommend you do the same. Go your own way. Forge your own characters.

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