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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 3 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 it.

  1. Wrathgar, Son of Wulfric
  2. Wulfric the Wanderer
  3. Brutus
Of those three 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".


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. Wrathgar currently appears in two books on Amazon Kindle, one paperback, and has a new book coming out on March 1st 2020.

Brutus is the real oddball character of the three. His stories are best described as "Sword and Sorcery Erotica" or "Romance Sword and Sorcery". As a character he has similarities to both Wrathgar and Wulfric, but he is much more lusty and greedy when it comes to his romantic conquests. So far he only appears in one book: "Brutus and Avianna", which I market as an erotic sword and sorcery love story.

#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.


No... My preference is to wait.

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.

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