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The New York Times, December 31, 1949

Appeals Court Rules Purchase Does Not Entitle Owner to Publication Rights


ALBANY, Dec. 30 - Ownership of a manuscript does not include the right of publication, the Court of Appeals has ruled unanimously in a case involving a story written by Samuel L. Clemens under his pen-name, Mark Twain.

An opinion written by Judge Charles S. Desmond and made public today upheld the Appellate Division which had reversed a decision by Supreme Court Justice Aron Steuer after a trial in New York in January, 1948.

Judge Desmond declined to express the court's views "as to the advisability of permitting literary flowers so to blush unseen," but declared that if a change in public policy is to be made, it must be through an act of the Legislature.

The manuscript at issue was written in 1876 and entitled "A Murder, A Mystery, and A Marriage." It is owned by Lew D. Feldman of 45 East Fifty-first Street, New York, who acquired it at an auction in 1945 for a reputed $1,200.

In that same year, the story was privately printed by Mr. Feldman and a suit to restrain publication was instituted by Thomas G. Chamberlain of 55 Liberty Street, New York, and the Central Hanover Trust Company, trustees of the Clemens estate.

The story was originally offered for publication in 1876 by Mr. Clemens to William Dean Howells, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, but it was not accepted.

Correspondence followed the same year between the author and Mr. Howells in which was discussed a proposal by the author to enlist other famous writers of the period, such as Bret Harte and Mr. Howells himself each to write a final chapter to the mystery. Nothing, however, came of the scheme.

The Court of Appeals ruled today that the common law of copyright, or the right of first publication, is different from that of ownership of the physical paper and does not necessarily pass with ownership. The right to reproduce, Judge Desmond said, "belongs to the artist or author until disposed of by him and will be protected by the courts."

"Since it has here been found to be the fact that, however the manuscript left the possession of the author, he never intended that it be published, it follows that defendant could not have bought the publication rights," Judge Desmond wrote.

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