Given the uproar over Steph and his over protection of Joyce’s works, this is of interest.
An American judge intervening in a long-simmering feud has ruled that the rights to John Steinbeck’s most famous novels – including The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men – should be seized from his publisher and handed to his descendants.
In a case that could have significant consequences for families of artists who fought for creative control, New York judge Richard Owen ruled that Penguin Books must forfeit the copyright of 10 of Steinbeck’s works, even though the novelist had signed the rights away in 1938. . . .
The judge argued that American copyright law acknowledges the reality that young authors could not know in advance "the high stature they would attain" and that it was therefore fair to allow them or their descendants to renegotiate copyright agreements. . . .
Even assuming the ruling survives any appeal, it would not take immediate effect. Penguin would not have to give up the rights to Of Mice and Men until 2012. It could continue publishing The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s celebrated novel about a family of sharecroppers which came to define American memories of the Depression, until 2014.
US law would then require the new copyright holders to first negotiate with Penguin, so the company might well continue to publish the books.
Really, whether the copyright goes to the family or Penguin is immaterial to me. I think it’s ridiculous that anyone can have copyright on Steinbeck’s works 75 years after they were published. Steinbeck certainly isn’t benefitting from it any longer.
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