NABOKV-L post 0000557, Mon, 17 Apr 1995 15:36:25 -0700

Copyright (fwd)
From: Dieter E. Zimmer <>
Subject: Copyright

Many apt things have been said concerning copyright but I think there is one
basic point that remains to be stated. (I am passing on what has been explained
to me by the legal experts of a big German publishing house.)
The copyright (i.e., the right to make and distribute copies of a work) is a
personal right, intended to protect the originator of a work of art and/or
thought (the author, illustrator, translator, etc.) against unwished for
exploitation of his work. It is he who owns it. He could not relinquish it even
if he wanted to. Only in the case of his death does it pass on to his heirs who,
in the signatory countries of the International Copyright Union, retain it until
fifty years after the author's death (USA: 28, possibly plus 47 years after
deposit with the Copyright Office).
The author may concede the right to copy his work to a publisher for specific
purposes (and nowadays often for a specific time). These purposes have to be
explicitly stated in the agreement between author and publisher which has to be
a written one. Normally the purpose will be some sort of publication. If the
publisher fails to comply with the agreement (e.g., if he decides not to publish
the work, or if his firm ceases to exist) the copyright reverts to the author.
So strictly speaking, all the publisher ever acquires from the author is a
licence to exploit a certain work.
Thus *Korol, dama, valet* has certainly not become common property because the
Berlin publishing house (Slovo) that brought out the book in 1928 folded up
As an aside I might add that it is by no means clear that Slovo is dead in a
legal sense. It's always a new surprise in this country to see how many
businesses have managed to survive three cataclysms: 1933, 1945 and 1989. It
would have to be researched. As far as I know, Slovo was affiliated with the
Ullstein group, perhaps even a subdivision of Ullstein, and Ullstein certainly
still exists.
-- Dieter E.Zimmer, Hamburg, Germany --