June 12, 2006

Steinbeck son, granddaughter awarded novel rights

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The book publishing rights to some of
novelist John Steinbeck's most successful novels will be
transferred to his son and granddaughter after a judge ruled in
their favor in a copyright suit, lawyers said on Monday.

U.S. District Judge Richard Owen ruled Steinbeck's son,
Thomas Steinbeck, and his granddaughter, Blake Smyle, deserve
the legal rights to ten novels including Of Mice and Men and
The Grapes of Wrath. The rights had previously belonged to
publisher Penguin, dating back to 1938, as well as to the
estate of John Steinbeck's late widow, Elaine.

In his ruling Owen noted that U.S. copyright laws now
recognize that young writers and artists such as Steinbeck, who
died in 1968 but began writing his first book in 1929, "cannot
predict the high stature they would attain" when signing early
contracts with publishers.

The judge ruled that Penguin failed in its arguments that a
1994 agreement with Elaine Steinbeck, who died in 2003, gave
Penguin continued publication rights to the novels.

"My clients' primary concern here is to protect and
preserve the legacy of John Steinbeck," said Mark Lee, lawyer
for Thomas Steinbeck and Blake Smyle. "They are gratified that
the judge recognized the correctness of their position."

Maureen Donnelly, a spokeswoman for Penguin, said the
company was "evaluating its options" following the ruling,
noting the decision "would not take effect for many years in
the future."

Susan Kohlmann, attorney for the estate of Elaine
Steinbeck, said: "We are disappointed in the part of the
opinion that relates to the Penguin termination notice and
considering what to do."

The judge also granted Steinbeck and Smyle the movie rights
to The Long Valley and the Red Pony, which previously belonged
to Paramount Pictures. A spokesperson for Paramount could not
immediately comment.

Following the ruling, Penguin is scheduled to turn over the
book rights to Of Mice and Men in 2012 and The Grapes of Wrath
in 2014.