Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Re Andre Norton

Papapete writes:
Andre Norton was the first science fiction author I sought out. It's too bad that so much of her stuff is out of print now.
Me too. As I look at the list of published books on her web site, it's amazing how many titles still leap out at me after forty-five years. The Time Traders books, the Forerunner books, the Dipple books, the Solar Queen books, the Free Traders books...

As for Norton's books being out of print now; it's not merely too bad, it's a travesty. Many of you Tennessee folks should have seen this article, which ran in The Tennessean about a week ago. The reason Norton's books are largely out of print now is that the rights to them have been tied up in litigation since Norton's death in 2005. Despite Norton's expressed wishes that her estate be managed by her longtime caregiver, Sue Stewart, including a video deposition to that effect and supporting statements from many who knew her well and worked closely with her, in her will she did grant some vaguely defined "posthumous publication" rights to a certain well-funded fan in Texas, and for the past few years he's kept the estate tied up in court and the reprint rights therefore in limbo. Worse, a few weeks ago, some crackhead judge in Nashville actually ruled that, on the basis of this fan's having a "greater appreciation" for the literary works than Norton's chosen caretakers, Norton's will was void, and control of the estate was awarded to this fan.

The judge's decision is being appealed, of course, and according to people whose judgment I trust, it would be pure insanity for this ruling to be allowed to stand. But in the meantime, no publisher in his or her right mind is going to even think about reissuing any of Norton's books for fear of being invited to the litigation party.

Let this be a lesson to you. As I've said over and over again, It's all about who controls the rights. Even if you don't think your intellectual property rights are worth a plugged nickel, at least for the benefit of your heirs, make sure the ownership status is clear. Because you just never know what might happen.

After all, John Kennedy Toole's novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, was published, won the Pulitzer Prize, and became a hotly sought-after movie property eleven years after Toole committed suicide in despair at over being unable to get it published...