I am a lifelong comics junkie, so I’ve been enjoying my daily dose of vintage Apartment 3-G strips from Comics Kingdom. These strips from the 1970s, drawn by Alex Kotzky, are gorgeous to look at. The stories are pretty interesting, too.
Today’s post over at Planetpeschel about Victorian editor James Payn’s battle with copyright trolls in his time brought to mind some A3G strips from 1970 that contain an incorrect assumption about copyright.
Here’s the setup: Newton Figg, the writer of a popular series of children’s books, has hit a dry spell. He recently married a woman who then dedicated herself to spending his money in Paris and dallying with another man. Newton flees to New York and stays in the same building as his friends the A3G girls. Marian follows him to New York and negotiates a new contract with his publisher, takes the check for the advance, and returns to Paris. Abandoned by his wife, Newton falls apart, and spends the night writing a 300-page letter to her.
His publisher drops by to see how he’s doing, reads the manuscript, and demands to publish it, seeing it as the next “Love Story” (which, in 1970, was hot hot hot). Horrified at exposing his feelings, Newton refuses.
Here’s what happens next:
Can you spot the copyright error?
The book publisher did not make the correct distinction between ownership of a physical version of the work and the ownership of the copyright to the work.
Figg’s wife Marion owns the manuscript. She does not own the copyright to the words on it. She can do anything to the manuscript she wants. She can burn it, sell it, throw it out the window onto the Champs Elysees.
The one thing she cannot do is sell the right to publish it. Only Newton Figg, as the copyright holder, can do it.
This is what happened to J.D. Salinger’s letters to Joyce Maynard. Maynard could sell the letters, and she did, for $156,600. What she couldn’t do was sell the right to publish them.
Something to keep in mind if you’re contemplating an affair with a great writer.