U.S. Publisher Claims Right to Publish eBook|Translation of ‘The Master and Margarita’

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Overlook Press sued the grandchildren of Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov, claiming an eBook translation of his masterpiece “The Master and Margarita” will not violate copyright, as Overlook owns rights to a print translation.
     Peter Mayer Publishers dba Overlook Press sued Daria Shilovskaya and Sergey Sholovskiy, the children of Bulgakov’s only child, Elena Shilovskaya, according to the complaint in Federal Court.
     Overlook seeks declaration of non-infringement and wants the court to determine a fair royalty rate for an ebook version.
     It acknowledges that Bulgakov’s grandchildren own rights to the underlying copyright. It says they have threatened litigation, claiming that the U.S. publisher “has a right to publish the translation in print form, but they contend that an electronic book would infringe their copyright in the work.”
     Overlook is successor to Ardis Publishers, which commissioned the translation, which was published in 1995 and is still in print in paperback. Overlook bought Ardis in 2001.
     “Overlook has the sole and exclusive right to publish the translation and contends that this right extends to publishing the translation as an ebook, as it now intends to do,” the complaint states. “Overlook now seeks a declaratory judgment that its publication of the translation in electronic form does not infringe any copyright interest of the Shilovskiys.
     “Although the parties have long been in agreement over the reasonable compensation to defendants for plaintiff’s publication of the translation in print form, they have been unable to agree on any compensation for its publication in electronic form. Overlook now seeks a judicial determination of the appropriate compensation for publication of the ebook, as provided in 17 U.S.C. § 104A(d)(3)(B).”
     Three other English translations of “The Master and Margarita” also have been published in the United States, in 1994, 2001 and 2011.
     Bulgakov, 1891-1940, had some plays produced, but virtually all of his fiction was banned from publication under Josef Stalin.
     “The Master and Margarita” describes a visit of the devil to Moscow, and the hell he raises there. Aside from making Communist Party officials look like fools, the book is controversial, in Russia, because the devil thinks it hilarious that the Party denies the existence of Jesus.
     In his short novel, “The Heart of a Dog,” the hearts of a Communist party apparatchik and a dog are transplanted, and the dog becomes a vicious thug.
     The last story in his short story collection, “A Country Doctor’s Notebook,” ends with a doctor shooting a party official in the head and then fleeing through a window. Bulgakov was a medical doctor but gave it up to write.
     Unsuccessful, understandably, in getting his works published under Stalin, Bulgakov once said: “I hate editors. All editors. I shall hate them until the day I die.”
     Overlook is represented by David Korzenik, with Miller Korzenik & Sommers.
     (EDITOR’S NOTE: After this story was archived, the webmaster of the “ Master and Margarita ” website informed Courthouse News that there is an error in the complaint.
     (According to Jan Venhellemont, of Belgium, defendants Sergey Shilovsky and Daria Shilovskaya are not blood relatives of Bulgakov; they are the grandchildren of Bulgakov’s third wife and her second husband, who was chief of staff of the Moscow Military District when she met Bulgakov. Bulgakov married Elena Sergeevna Nyurenberg the day after her marriage to her second husband was dissolved, and her son Sergey later fathered the two defendants in this case, Vanhellemont says.
     (Courthouse News thanks Vanhellemont for the clarification.)

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