Who Publishes, Who Benefits?

By Carmen Comment

Over the weekend, the Observer’s Vanessa Thorpe reported on an unseemly row over some of the most illustrious names in world literature, including Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, that broke out over who owns the rights to their work. The rights to publish the work of the writers on the ‘Calder list’, which once included more Nobel Prize-winning authors than any other in the history of books, are at the centre of a cross-Channel battle that has seen angry words flying between some of the most famous publishing houses in the business.

The catalyst for the row was a recent advertisement carried by the London Review of Books, which proclaimed that Oneworld Classics, a small but established British publisher, had taken over the Calder back catalogue and would be selling copies of selected work by writers such as Beckett, Ionesco and Alexander Trocchi, the cult author of YOUNG ADAM. But last month the same journal carried a counter-claim. The two revered French literary houses, Editions Gallimard and Editions de Minuit, original publishers of many authors on Calder’s books, both denied that Oneworld Classics had any such right, saying: “Gallimard and Minuit hereby confirm that they recognise no right whatsoever on the part of Oneworld Classics to these authors.”

There are more details in the article, but suffice to say that it seems both sides have a valid claim and this mess may take years to properly sort out.