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Copyright quirk leaves James Bond up for grabs in Canada

A man takes photographs beside a display of James Bond books on display at the "For Your Eyes Only, Ian Fleming and James Bond" exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London, Wednesday April 16, 2008.


Master spy James Bond, one of pop culture's most iconic figures, is now available for dangerous assignments from Canadian writers, thanks to a copyright quirk that allows the writing and publication in Canada of original material based on Bond creator Ian Fleming's work. As of Jan. 1, the original writings of Fleming, a former British naval intelligence agent who published 12 novels and nine stories featuring 007 between 1952 and 1966, have entered the public domain. That's because Canada's view of copyright is that it extends for 50 years after the death of a writer.

Fleming died in 1964, but Bond has lived on in films featuring such actors as Sean Connery and, most recently, Daniel Craig, who's now working on a 24th Bond film, Spectre, due for release in November. But Bond has also lived on in about two dozen novels by authors sanctioned by Fleming's estate: William Boyd, Sebastian Faulks and John Gardner, who wrote 14 Bond novels, have sent Bond on assignment.

Some novels have been set in the present day and others during the Cold War. The latest is a 1950s-set Bond novel, based on unpublished material by Fleming, due next fall from screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, perhaps best known as the creator and lead writer of the British TV series Foyle's War. Horowitz's work has Bond taking on the Russians against the backdrop of a Formula 1 race in Germany.

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Now, some Canadian writers, mindful of the 2015 copyright changes, are musing about the prospect of taking 007 for a spin with the consensus among two leading authors that Bond would best work in the past.

Linwood Barclay of Oakville, Ont., says he would relish writing a Bond novel set in Canada in the 1970s. "That's a good time period," said Barclay, author of several bestselling mysteries and thrillers that have sold in 40 countries and been optioned for film and TV production. "[Canada] just came out of the Centennial. You had FLQ stuff going on. You had a lot of stuff happening," he said in an interview.

Barclay said he has a lot on his plate, but has been a fan of the character since he saw the Bond film Thunderball in 1965. "If someone was to say, 'Hey, are you interested in this?' I would probably, at the very least, think about it and I'd find some way to squeeze it in," he said.

Peter Robinson, author of the popular Inspector Banks series set in Britain that have also been adapted for TV, said he would "love to have a go" at writing 007. In an e-mail exchange with The Globe, Robinson said he has read all of the Bond novels, including the post-Fleming works, and has been a fan of the character since 1962 when he first saw Ursula Andress walk out of the sea in Dr. No, the first Bond film.

Robinson, who splits his time between Toronto and North Yorkshire, said he would be more interested in picking up where Fleming left off, exploring the character as a Cold War spy living in a late-1960s world, than bringing him into the present day. Bond is a "man of action in a very specific arena," he said.

However, he doubts that any Canadian writer would try a Bond novel unless the book could be distributed and sold outside Canada. "There wouldn't be much point. Canada has a terrible track record when it comes to buying its own genre fiction, and I doubt that the sales generated by such an undertaking would be adequate compensation for the time and effort that went into it."

In an e-mail exchange, Giles Blunt, author of the popular John Cardinal mystery novels set in small-town Northern Ontario and a scriptwriter on such TV series as Law & Order, said it would not be appealing to spend the year he requires to write a novel using someone else's characters. "In addition, you have to hit all those well-known bases: the martini, the casino, the babe, the megalomaniac, the astounding weapon etc. It seems far too restrictive an endeavour to be any fun."

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But noted Canadian agent Helen Heller, who represents Barclay, says checking through that list might be appealing to some authors. "It would provide some people with a kind of literary corset they could put around themselves when they write," she said. "There are other people who would hate that, who would feel they could not do that."

Ms. Heller said, in an interview, that she has been mindful of the looming public domain access to 007 with the arrival of 2015. "But Canadian agent Helen Heller, who represents Barclay, said that "none of my clients have rung me after midnight on Jan. 1 to say: 'Whoopee. I can now do a James Bond story.'"

The challenge, in her view, would be making Bond a living, breathing, appealingly complicated character beyond the "construct" Fleming created. "I could see a way of making it appealing if you went the Mad Men route – you could make it something quite sophisticated," she said. "A sophisticated, early-sixties take on something going on in Canada. There's a lot you could use."

Representatives of Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., which manages issues around the Fleming works, did not respond to requests for comment on the copyright situation.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More


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