Tuesday, December 23, 2008

French Court OKs ''Les Miserables'' Sequels

On Friday the AP reported that a French court declared that two books written recently as sequels to Victor Hugo's 'Les Miserables', first published in 1862, were legitimate since Hugo's original was now in the public domain.
"Hugo's heirs had filed a suit in 2001 demanding euro685,000 ($955,000) in damages from author Francois Ceresa, who wrote the novels using the characters and style of ''Les Miserables.'' They also sought to ban the two books -- ''Cosette or The Time of Illusions'' and ''Marius or The Fugitive.''

The family had since reduced its claim to a symbolic one euro in damages and dropped the idea of outlawing the books.

The court said Friday that Hugo's novel was in the public domain, and Ceresa was therefore free to invent a sequel."

People who had no hand in creating Les Miserables, and whose only connection to it was that they were related to Victor Hugo, were attempting to prevent the use of the work as the basis of further creativity. Hugo himself once said, at the opening of the International Literary Congress in 1878,
A book belongs to the author, but ideas belong... to all mankind... If either of those rights, the right of the writer or the right of the human spirit, should be sacrificed, it is the right of the writer, because the public interest should be our sole concern
Hugo was one of the prime movers behind the drive for international respect and protection for the rights of the author in literary works. His efforts eventually led to the establishment of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1886, which remains one of the key international instruments governing copyright in creative works to this day. He wholeheartedly believed in protecting the moral rights of authors and yet still recognised that those rights were trumped by the public interest, whenever they came into conflict with the public interest. I wonder what he would have made of his descendants' litigious activities.

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