In a potentially major reversal for the heirs of Tintin author Herge, a Dutch court has ruled that they do not own all the rights to the famous boy reporter's image.
Moulinsart SA, the Belgium-based company that manages the lucrative Tintin business, took a small Dutch fanclub to court in 2012 saying they did not have the right to print extracts in their fanzine.
But in court, the lawyer for fanclub the Herge Society produced a document from 1942 in which Herge, whose real name was Georges Remi, signed over the rights to Tintin to his publisher Casterman.
"It appears from a 1942 document... that Herge gave publishing rights for the books of the adventures of Tintin to publisher Casterman so Moulinsart is not the one to decide who can use material from the books," said the Hague court's ruling, seen by AFP on Monday.
The document came from a Herge expert who wishes to remain anonymous and its validity has not been contested by Moulinsart or the author's family.
"The big question is to know whether they (other fanclubs) have to continue paying Moulinsart," said Herge Society secretary Stijn Verbeek.
"Perhaps a Belgian judge has to make such a ruling before it counts in Belgium," he told AFP.
The fanclub's lawyer, Katelijn van Voorst, said that the 1942 document was "very interesting for everyone, abroad and in the Netherlands".
A similar Belgian association, Friends of Herge, said it was "too early" to say what the ruling's impact would be.
Casterman and Moulinsart were not immediately available to comment on the ruling.