Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Andrew Wylie, a literary agent who is showing a knack for handling the publishing rights of deceased authors, is showing the market that these are "golden opportunities" for the authors' estates. Copyrights can last for many decades after an author's death, with the United Kingdom and most of Europe have 70 years of copyright following their death and American books published prior to 1978 being protected for 95 years.
Long, complex literary works of deceased authors are now being made into television of Netflix series years after their death. John Updike's Rabbit novels are set to be adapted for television by Andrew Davies, the leading UK screenwriter, and Philip Roth's novel The Plot Against America has been bought by HBO and will be a six-part series, starring Winona Ryder and Zoe Kazan.
Jonny Geller, chairman of UK literary agency Curtis Brown, which represents the Ian Fleming estate, says “The debate for all literary estates is, ‘Will we devalue our ancestor’s work by putting too much out there?’" With the modernization of the literature market, the new avenues include ebooks and publishing timeless novels in foreign languages, expanding the love of famous authors. “There is a strong interest in classic English literature now,” says Lisa Dowdeswell, head of literary estates at the Society of Authors in the UK. For some works, continuation novels may be desired, and the appeal is reeling in noted authors of today's fame.
But an agent should listen to the family's wishes instead of just believing them to be happy with a check every month. Wylie says that agents need to be sensitive to their desires. “We listen carefully to the people who own estates. They have both legal and cultural authority.”
See John Gapper, Death is Not the End: The Lucrative World of Literary Estates, Financial Times, July 25, 2019.
Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.