Gotham judge finds in favor of author's relatives

A federal judge in New York has found that a son and a granddaughter of John Steinbeck hold publishing rights to 10 of his early works along with the feature rights held by Paramount Pictures to “The Long Valley” and “The Red Pony.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Owen issued an order Thursday in which he ruled that the rights belong to the author’s son, Thomas Steinbeck, and granddaughter Blake Smyle. The duo had filed in 2004 for termination of copyrights previously held by various individuals and organizations.

Steinbeck granted film rights in 1947 to Republic Pictures for “The Red Pony” and to Charles K. Feldman Group for “The Long Valley,” with Paramount eventually becoming owner of those rights. The publishing rights, held by Penguin, included “Grapes of Wrath,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Tortilla Flat,” “The Long Valley” and “The Red Pony.”

Owen noted in the ruling that copyright laws were written so that authors and heirs can terminate contracts and renegotiate deals to enable them to receive “appropriate reward for their artistic gifts to our culture.”

Mark S. Lee, a Los Angeles lawyer for Thomas Steinbeck and Smyle, said his clients wanted to protect and preserve the Steinbeck legacy and plan to renegotiate the contracts. “Getting these rights will better enable them to do that,” he added. “We’re dealing obviously with classics of American literature.”

Paramount did not respond to a request for comment.

The judge also ruled against Steinbeck and Smyle in their filings for termination of feature rights to “The Wayward Bus,” held by 20th Century Fox, and theatrical rights to “Cannery Row,” held by Rodgers & Hammerstein and MGM.

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