Copyright on the work Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The complexity of the different national copyright laws on an international level

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What’s the answer to the question “Is the famous story The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry (still) protected by copyright”? Yes, no, maybe…

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a French writer and pioneering aviator born in 1900 and who died while on a mission in 1944 during the ll World War. He wrote the story Le Petit Prince which was first published in English and French in the United States in 1943, than in France in 1946. Its first Italian translation was published in 1949.

In the United States this work will enter into public domain in 2039, as it is one of those cases whose copyright term lasts for 95 years from the year of first publication. 

In Europe and in Switzerland as well, another principle is in force: a work is generally protected by copyright until the 70th year from the author’s death.

Apart of that, we must consider all different particular national laws that ought to be applied: 

In France, before implementing the European rules, a work entered public domain the 51st year after the author’s death. Moreover, there is a special law that applies to works published during the two World Wars, plus another special law which is a tribute to the soldiers “Mort pour la France” authors of works: these acts extend the copyright term. Another French rule makes it even more complicated, because France adapted its legislation to the European one, which covers a work for 70 years after the author’s death, but with an exception for the works that were under the 50 years from the author’s death term and already benefitting from any extension. 

Consequently, considering all of these principles, exceptions and exceptions of exceptions, Le Petit Prince is protected by French copyright up till 2033, which is the sum total of the author’s death (1944) + 50 years (copyright term at that time) + 8 years (extension for works published during World Wars) + 30 years (extension for death for one’s country).

The first Italian version of Il Piccolo Principe was published in 1949 and many other adaptations and translations after that. In Italy the Italian Copyright Act protects a work for 70 years after the author’s death, same as in Switzerland with its Federal Copyright Act.

But we must be careful with the translated version: usually, the translator gives his creative contribution when he translates a text, it’s a result of his intellectual creation, even if it comes from another work. A translated text is therefore a derivative work, protected by copyright as a work in its own right. 

Besides that, there is an international general principle (the Territoriality Principle, adopted by most countries) that should be taken into account: in cases where several national laws are involved, the law of that country, in which the protected work is used, applies.

In conclusion: how can I use in Switzerland Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s story, whether the original French version, or the English or Italian translated version? 

–       The original Le Petit Prince, in Switzerland is public domain: I’m free to use it within Switzerland. But pay attention to internet: if I upload or write the French original version Le Petit Prince to my blog, I must not forget that if users in France have also access to it, I’m than violating the French Copyright legislation, as in France the content is still covered under Copyright so far. I would need to geoblock my blog. 

–       Concerning the English version The Little Prince translated by Katherin Woods in 1943 and the Italian version Il Piccolo Principe, they are protected by copyright all over, and thus, are not to be considered public domain.

Written by SM