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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Friday, August 17, 2007 12:09 pm
But I do stand ready to help revive the Matt Helm series…
Posted by: Frank

The Financial Times examines how the estates of late authors pump out new ghostwritten works and otherwise keep their brands alive. I found this quote particularly telling:

“Often an author already has an extensive literary canon to exploit. Dahl and Dahl Ltd, which handles the estate of the children’s author Roald Dahl, has refused to create new books, unlike the estate of Dr Seuss for example.

“Dominic Gregory of DDL explains: ‘It’s not part of our plan because his existing books continue to sell very well.’”

Notice that he didn’t say it’s not part of the plan because it’d be nice to let Dahl rest in peace.

Also of note:

“For dead authors who are still in copyright, trademarking may help estates keep control after the term ends, says intellectual property lawyer Laurence Kaye. ‘If you intend to republish a book that has gone out of copyright, you would have to do it in a way that did not infringe any trademarks.’

“IFP has registered everything from Ian Fleming to James Bond and Miss Moneypenny, so any attempt to reproduce the books without permission after they go out of copyright would meet difficulties.

“Mr Kaye says: ‘You would have to manipulate the book so that there was nothing in it that infringed the registered trademarks.’”

So are we looking at a future in which those who wish to publish such out-of-copyright books must go through the pages and rename characters Bames Jond and, heaven forbid, Gussy Palore?

Publishers and authors’ estates have a keen interest in making money, and that’s fine. But wasn’t copyright law supposed to act as a counterbalance to encourage creative use of such works after the protected terms? This legal end run seems likely to further impoverish¬†a creative culture that once was free to re-imagine works from earlier eras and use them as building blocks for new art.

In one of those small-world coincidences that so often crop up in the lives of voracious consumers of media, I watched Hud for the first time last weekend courtesy of my digital video recorder. A few months ago, I similarly caught up with A Face in the Crowd. The common denominator: Patricia Neal, who turns in extraordinary, electric performances in both films. I was so taken by her that I went online to read about her career. That’s when I discovered she was married to Roald Dahl for 30 years. And now the FT fills us in on how the Dahl estate manages his works.

One takeaway: It’s just those kinds of strange connections that can¬†lead writers to use out-of-copyright works in fascinating new ways. Another: Don’t pass up an opportunity to watch a Patricia Neal movie.

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