Steinbeck's heirs lose rights to Penguin

by Lara Killian

14 August 2008


Yesterday an appeals court in Manhattan overturned a 2006 decision awarding the copyright interests for 10 of John Steinbeck’s works to his closest heirs, his son and granddaughter.


Penguin has had a standing agreement for the publishing rights to Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men since 1938, which the family members sought to end in 2004. Penguin wasn’t willing to let go without a fight.

BBC News reports, “Thomas Steinbeck and Blake Smyle were awarded the rights in 2006 after a lengthy court battle.” The story continues, “But the appeals court ruled the lower court had misapplied copyright law.”

It turns out that the rights had been more recently conveyed by Steinbeck’s third wife to Penguin in 1994, and left with her estate to her descendants from a previous marriage when she died in 2003.

John Steinbeck died in 1968, having won a Pulitzer for The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and receiving the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962.

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