Ownership of Twain Manuscript of 1876 Does Not Give Right to Publish, Court Holds
Ownership of a literary manuscript does not necessarily include the right to publish it, according to a decision of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, made public yesterday.
The decision, reversing an earlier Supreme Court ruling, was made on an appeal by the trustees of the estate of Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain), who sought to prevent the publication of "A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage," written by Mark Twain in 1876, by the present owners of the manuscript, Lew D. Feldman and Allan Hyman.
By a three-to-two vote the court upheld the plaintiff's view: "that the defendants have no title to the literary property in the manuscript as distinguished from the physical ownership of the autographed manuscript."
The record showed that the manuscript, when written, was submitted to William Dean Howells, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and rejected.
"The manuscript was not a finished manuscript, but was the outline of a plot which could be developed by different authors, each in his own manner," said Justice Bernard L. Shientag, who wrote the majority opinion. "The idea was that these different stories could ultimately be collected in one volume and profitably sold.
"Correspondence at the time makes it clear that the author never intended to publish his manuscript in the form that it then was, and that future action would depend upon the cooperation of well-known American novelists, or possibly English authors, in a combined plan."
Justice Shientag further reported that nothing was known of the disposition of the manuscript. It was not found among the author's papers when he died in 1910.
"The evidence shows that he was very particular about his unpublished manuscripts up to the time of his death," he went on. "This state of facts is quite sufficient to justify the holding that no intentional transfer of the manuscript for publishing it was ever made by the author."
The opinion also held that possession of the manuscript under those circumstances would give the owners physical possession only and that the right to publish could not be inferred from the "mere possession."
The plaintiffs in the action were Thomas G. Chamberlain and the Central Hanover Bank and Trust Company, as successor trustees under the will of Samuel L. Clemens; the Mark Twain Company and Mrs. Clara Clemens Samossoud, daughter of the author.
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