Who hasn’t heard of Peter Pan? Peter Pan is a story about a boy and his companions who never grew up. It has been a childhood favorite for decades, first in print and plays, and more recently in numerous film adaptions. With the story of Peter Pan being so popular you’d think that the author and his family would have made quite literally a mint from its royalties. Well, the story certainly has made a lot of money, but not for the author and his family. The reason is because the author, J M Barrie bequeathed the copyright of Peter Pan, and all of its royalties to the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
In 1929 the author of Peter Pan, J M Barrie gave the copyright and royalties to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. The hospital is a children’s hospital, so the gift is fitting. There was only one condition Barrie placed on the gift. They could not reveal the income from the source.
The royalties the hospital receives from Peter Pan have been significant. Barrie’s gift has provided a substantial source of revenue to the hospital over the years.
In 1987, when the original copyright term expired and the book entered the public domain, the loss of revenue prompted the politicians in the UK to act. They passed an act of parliament that allowed the hospital to own the copyrights to Peter Pan for perpetuity, meaning they own the copyright and all royalties for ever, but this is only recognized in the UK. In 1996 the European Union changed the terms of copyright to be life plus 70 years, which extended the copyright term throughout Europe t up until 2007, except for in Spain where an act of the Spanish government extended the period up until 2017. The play version of Peter Pan will expire in 2023 in the US due to the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998 which covers a period of 95 years for works published between 1923 and 1977. While the book version is now in the public domain in the US, royalties are still expected from movies and plays.
This means that the hospital can continue to earn worldwide royalties up until as late as 2023 for Peter Pan.