After announcing his intention to adapt author Philip Francis Nowlan‘s 1928 novella, Armageddon 2419 A.D. at Comic-Con last year, producer Don Murphy attempted to clarify the public domain status of the story, which features the first appearance of Buck Rogers, in US court.
But according to an update in the case from The Hollywood Reporter, Murphy may have to make the movie in order to clarify the matter. U.S. District Judge Joy Conti dismissed the case as “the amended complaint does not contain specific, or even approximate, allegations about when plaintiff could begin film production, let alone release the allegedly infringing film, assuming a declaratory judgment is entered in plaintiff’s favor.”
Without a completed work, or a film in production, possibly infringing on the copyright claimed by Dille Family Trust — owners of the Buck Rogers works first published by Nowlan’s then publisher John F. Dille — Murphy cannot sue to determine if Armageddon 2419 A.D. and its characters are in the public domain.
In the novella, first published in the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, Rogers appears as “Anthony Rogers,” a man held in suspended animation for 492 years who becomes involved in the second American War of Independence against occupying forces of the long dead republic’s enemies.
After reading the story, Dille convinced Nowlan to adapt some of the characters and situations for a comic strip. The publisher also rechristened Rogers as “Buck,” though some later adaptations would use William as his given name.
It is unclear if Murphy intends to spring a new Anthony Rogers franchise of the public domain status of the novella. But it may be a moot point as the producer would have to begin making the movie, a substantial investment, to discover whether or not he has a clear claim to make it at all.
Buck Rogers quickly leaped from the comic strips to radio and movie serials. The character also featured in two television series in the 1950s and 1970s. He nearly made it to the big screen under the direction of Frank Miller earlier this century, but that project was abandoned after the poor returns on Miller’s film The Spirit.