(CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court turned down an appeal by John Steinbeck’s heirs over the rights to some of the author’s best-known books, including “Of Mice and Men” and “The Grapes of Wrath.”
The justices on Monday declined to review the 2nd Circuit’s ruling for Penguin Publishing and the heirs of Steinbeck’s widow, Elaine, whose rights to the works were challenged by Steinbeck’s son from another marriage, Thomas Steinbeck, and Blake Smyle, Thomas’ niece.
When Elaine died in April 2003, she bequeathed the copyright interests to her heirs, but specifically excluded Thomas and his brother, John IV, and their heirs, including Smyle.
In 2004, Thomas and Smyle tried to terminate the copyright deal Steinbeck made in 1938 with Penguin’s predecessor, Viking Publishing.
The Copyright Act, recognizing that fledgling writers lack bargaining power, allows authors’ family members and heirs to terminate copyright transfers or licensing deals.
Based on this right, U.S. District Judge Richard Owen upheld the notice of termination issued by Thomas Steinbeck and Smyle.
But the 2nd Circuit disagreed, focusing on a 1994 agreement that Elaine Steinbeck made with Penguin to renegotiate the terms of the 1938 contract. Because the 1994 deal “terminated and superseded” the earlier contract, the court ruled, it stripped Thomas and Smyle of their right to terminate Steinbeck’s original contract.
The high court rejected Thomas’ appeal without comment. Chief Justice Roberts took no part in the consideration or decision of the petition.