I'm planning on making a comic that has a few public domain superheroes in it, among which is the character of American Crusader. I'm quite interested in knowing how much of the character, if any, I can use safely?

1 Answer 1


Is the superhero American Crusader in the public domain?

I have insufficient knowledge of the actual practice of individual and corporate owners of rights in superhero characters to protect their rights in individual characters to provide a definitive answer the first part of the question about American Crusader without extensive research.

Copyright Considerations

The character debuted in August 1941 to April 1944, published by Better Publications, and lots of works from that date are still not out of copyright.

Better Publications, later renamed Standard Comics, folded in 1959, which leaves open the possibility that it failed to renew its copyrights as it would have been required to do in the time period not long before the expiration in 1967-1970 of the first of two possible rounds of copyright protection under prior law, but it appears that the copyrights may have been sold to a third-party when the company folded, and that third-party may have preserved the copyright in a timely fashion. If the copyrights were renewed, they benefited from an extension of copyright periods for copyrights still in force when the current law (pre-amendment) was in force, and from a later extension of copyrights under that law.

It also depends to some extent on who holds the copyright. If the copyright was held by the natural person author, whose identity isn't clear, the date of that author's death matters (even thought the date of death had not been relevant when the copyright was originally issued under prior law.

Alan Moore with America's Best Comics revived the character in 1999. There was also an earlier revival by AC Comics, which is also not out of copyright. So, any public domain aspects of the character would at a minimum not include anything derived from either revival.

It isn't clear if either revival was done with the permission of the copyright holder, or if either company reviving the character had determined that the copyright had expired.

Trademark Considerations

Better Publications and its successors may also have had trademarks related to American Crusader, but those probably expired from lack of use prior to two recent revivals of this character.

But, even if the copyright on the original version of the comic in 1941 has expired and provides a public domain core upon which you can expand independent of AC Comics or Alan Moore's revival with ABC, either AC Comics or ABC may have a trademark in connection with American Crusader that materially limits what you could do with this character. There is one live American Crusade trademark on file with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office:

enter image description here

The summary of the registration is as follows and it does not appear to apply to the comic book character:

Mark Image Word Mark AMERICAN CRUSADER Goods and Services IC 008. US 023 028 044. G & S: Filleting knives; Fishing knives; Folding knives; Hunting knives; Pocket knives; Sport knives. FIRST USE: 20160215. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20160215 Standard Characters Claimed Mark Drawing Code (4) STANDARD CHARACTER MARK Serial Number 86896152 Filing Date February 3, 2016 Current Basis 1A Original Filing Basis 1B Published for Opposition December 27, 2016 Registration Number 5159010 Registration Date March 14, 2017 Owner (REGISTRANT) Patriot Outfitters, LLC LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY KANSAS 206 Maple Hill Road St. Marys KANSAS 66536 Attorney of Record Joseph T. Leone Type of Mark TRADEMARK Register PRINCIPAL Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

The dead trademarks which can be reviewed via an easy internet link also do not refer to the comic book character.

So, you probably only have to worry about copyright considerations and not trademark considerations, although there could still be a state trademarks (arising from state law filings), or common law trademark rights in it (arising from use in commerce in a particular geographic area), asserted.

If so, what aspects of the character can be safely used?

If it is in the public domain (not just under copyright, but also under trademark law which does not have a fixed expiration date), then you can use all public domain aspects of the character.

For example, it isn't a coincidence that there are lots of Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur and Merlin and Aladdin and Brothers Grim fairy tales, and Jane Austin book based stories in TV and movies, because those characters are in the public domain, so no one other than the staff used to create their versions of those characters needs to be paid a royalty or needs to provide permission to do so.

In the case of Sherlock Holmes, part of the Sherlock Holmes works are in the public domain, and other parts of the original Sherlock Holmes works are not, so anything specific to the copyrighted portion of the original works are still protected by copyright.

  • Maybe The Crusader started selling knives lmao
    – Alex Sash
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 22:46

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