Veteran producer Don Murphy has been trying to get a big screen adaptation of Buck Rogers made for years, and it looks like it’s going to be a lot longer if things keep moving the way that they have been. Buck Rogers started off as a comic book and then was later adapted into an NBC TV series that attracted the most fans. Back in 2015 at San Diego Comic-Con, Don Murphy announced that he was going to take Buck Rogers to Hollywood, after believing that the 1929 novella, Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Phillip Francis Nowlan, was now public domain.
Armageddon 2419 A.D. introduced the Buck Rogers character as a coal mine inspector who wakes up from being in suspended animation after 500 years. Rogers finds himself in the middle of planetary war, which is almost too perfect for the real-life legal battle surrounding the rights to the character currently. 2015 came and went and Don Murphy is still trying to get the Buck Rogers movie off of the ground.
The legal battle for the Buck Rogers rights is currently taking place in federal courts in both, California and Pennsylvania as well as the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A hearing is scheduled for August that could end up determining whether the Buck Rogers rights can be put up for auction by heirs of John Dille, who published Phillip Francis Nowlan’s work in magazines over 8 decades ago. Don Murphy has been filing to stop the motion for the last 6 months, which has started to make Murphy, who is known for be an angry guy already, even more mad. Murphy declares, “It’s always bad to piss me off.”
Copyright law states that protection of creative works expires after 95 years from the first publication. Disney famously brought the term to 95 years in what has been called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, in an effort to protect Steamboat Willie. However, no attempt has been made to further lengthen the copyright term, which means that Buck Rogers should be fair game. But, the copyright owners aren’t just going to let Buck Rogers go that easily, which may be a sign of the times for the next few decades as more and more copyrights expire.
Don Murphy has even tried to get the copyright holder John Dille’s grandson to collaborate on the screenplay, but those offers have been turned down. Several weird circumstances have gone down in court over the last few years to keep Murphy from obtaining the rights to make a Buck Rogers movie. Putting up money to pay for trademark litigation, taking it away, bankruptcy filings, and more have been used to keep Murphy from putting out his dream project and as you can safely assume, he’s pretty angry about it. The next hearing is at the end of August and Murphy hopes that the judge will side with him and reveal Armageddon 2419 A.D. as public domain. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. You can read more about the circus surrounding a Buck Rogers movie at The Hollywood Reporter.