A timeless classic, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, entered the public domain in 2015 – a closer look at the decision of the Court of Milan: copyright duration and suspension of the terms due to WWII

Edoardo Cesarini;

verifier Elizabeth House

With Judgment no. 2826/2021, the Specialized Business Section of the Court of Milan found that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry novella The Little Prince entered the public domain on January 1st, 2015. Here, the court rejected the claims made by the plaintiffs, the Société pour l’Oeuvre et la Mémoire d’Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the Société Anonyme Editions Gallimard.

Plaintiffs, seeking to protect the French author’s literary heritage, had claimed that defendant, Italian publisher Giunti Editore S.p.A., infringed their rights of economic exploitation on the work. Thus, the defendant was responsible for acts of unfair competition

According to the plaintiffs, the copyright term provided for by Italian Copyright Law—equal to 70 years from the death of the author—was extended by the 1947 Treaty of Paris between Italy and the Allied Powers. Annex XV of the Treaty stated that the period between the outbreak of the Second World War and the entry into force of the Treaty was not to be considered. Legislative Decree Luogotenenziale July 20, 1945, No. 440 had also extended the term of copyright by six years.

As a result of such interpretation, the copyright on The Little Prince was to remain in force until May 1st, 2022 or—according to a different interpretation upheld by the Italian Supreme Court—until January 1st, 2021. Either way, the copyright was still in force at the time the Italian publisher marketed the book without renewing the relevant license.

The defendant company, instead, claimed that neither the Treaty of Paris nor the Legislative Decree were applicable, with the latter having also been subsequently repealed.

The Court of Milan agreed, concluding that neither extension applied to the work at stake. The existing conditions of reciprocity, in fact, would only have allowed an extension pursuant to Legislative Decree No. 440 of 1945, but it was repealed.

The plaintiffs’ claims were thus dismissed, and the Court also ordered them to pay the costs of the proceedings.


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