Watership Down author’s estate wins back all rights to classic novel

From The Guardian:

The estate of Watership Down author Richard Adams has won back all of the rights to the late author’s classic novel about anthropomorphised rabbits, in a high court ruling against the director of the famed animated adaptation.

The high court in London ruled on 27 May that Martin Rosen, the US director of the 1978 adaptation of Adams’s novel, had wrongly claimed that he owned all rights to the book, in which a group of rabbits fight to survive the destruction of their warren.

The court heard that Rosen, who owned the motion picture rights to Watership Down under his original 1976 contract, had entered into contracts worth more than $500,000 (£400,975) while claiming that he held all rights to the novel. Rosen also made $85,000 from an unauthorised licence for an audiobook adaptation, and also failed to pay the estate fees and merchandising royalties from the 2018 BBC/Netflix television adaptation, on which he served as an executive producer.

In his ruling, Judge Hacon ordered Rosen and his companies to pay an initial $100,000 in damages for copyright infringement, agreeing unauthorised license deals and denying royalty payments. Rosen and his companies were also directed to provide a record of all license agreements involving Watership Down, and pay court costs and the estate’s legal fees totalling £28,000. Rosen is set to pay additional damages, to be determined at a later hearing.

The court also terminated the original contract in which motion picture rights for Watership Down were granted to Rosen.

. . . .

“As custodians of this most beloved novel, our family has an obligation to protect the publishing and other rights for Watership Down and to preserve the essence of our father’s creation,” Johnson said. “After many years trying to resolve matters directly with Martin Rosen, we are extremely pleased with the high court’s ruling. We can now look forward to the future and develop new projects that honour the powerful and pertinent messages of Watership Down about the environment, leadership and friendship.”

Speaking to the Guardian, Johnson said she was “utterly exhausted … it has taken a long time to pull it all together and say, dad didn’t get his due.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

2 thoughts on “Watership Down author’s estate wins back all rights to classic novel”

  1. This is in the nature of an explanation, not an excuse. There was some (poor) basis for the claim by Rosen to having all rights; and part of the confusion comes from incompetence of legal advisers and agents all along. But I’m afraid that both the Grauniad and the estate have missed the cause of this fiasco: The US 1909 Copyright Act’s concept of “copyright indivisibility,” which doesn’t exist in the Berne Convention; was rejected in the 1976 Act; and is still demanded by H’wood {unbelievably foul and offensive string of expletives deleted} media conglomerates, moguls, and lawyers.

    Under the doctrine of “indivisibility,” one had to own the entire copyright at the moment of “publication,” or the publication was improper. That means that to do a film adaptation of, say, Gone With the Wind, the publisher (studio) had to own the copyright to the serialized novel upon release. Good negotiation resulted in return of that copyright to the original author shortly thereafter, by default in 90 days; it was much harder to do that in H’wood at the time.

    Including, especially, the mid-1970s, when Watership Down was optioned, put into film production, and released (the release occurred after the 1976 Act’s effective date, so there should have been some questions raised even then). Caveat: I haven’t seen this specific contract; I have, however, seen multiple contracts from that distribution entity from that period, and all of them neglect to include a “return of copyright after theatrical release” clause. Many conglomerates still try to pull this nonsense; I went around and around with the studio arm of big-Japanese-corporation-better-known-for-consumer-electronics earlier this century, and it took (literally, I counted) a dozen back-and-forth exchanges to get them to not try to take the full copyright in a previously published novel.

    The interaction between the nearly-half-a-century-dead indivisibility doctrine and film industry demands is both fascinating and frustrating. You can see it in the copyright notice in Harry Potter books, and it’s especially apparent if you compare an early printing of the first book to the seventh book.

    But nobody is saying “bad faith” anywhere, when they should.

    • Interesting.
      There weren’t many ways to exploit copyright in those days (1909) unlike 1976 or worse, today.
      Today there’s people that conflate ebooks with print, as if a copy of the the latter magically grated a right to the former (Here’s looking at you, IA, among many). Usually on purpose, to see what tbey can get away with.
      A couple big lawsuits required, too.
      No confusion excuse possible, though. Not any more.
      Bad faith is putting it mildly.

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