The Times of London said that, as of Thursday, the character will fall into the public domain under European Union law, meaning anyone in Europe can use it without paying royalties or seeking permission. Although Europe honors a copyright for 70 years after an artist's death, U.S. law protects one for 95 years after the initial copyright, so the Popeye character is to be protected in America until 2024.
Popeye has appeared in comic books, cartoons, games and movies, and on merchandise since he was first introduced in 1929 and generates about $2.2 billion in annual sales, The Times said.
"Popeye is one of the first of the famous 20th century cartoon characters to fall out of copyright," Mark Owen, an intellectual property specialist at the law firm Harbottle & Lewis, told the newspaper. "Betty Boop and ultimately Mickey Mouse will follow."