Mark Twain’s ghost haunts copyright history

After years of toying with the idea, Kash finally convinced me to write up the bizarre copyright story that started seven years after Mark Twain’s death, when his ghost reportedly dictated a new novel, via Ouija board, to Emily Grant Hutchings. His publisher said: well, if Twain wrote it, we own it.

So the more firmly they insisted Twain himself was behind the work, the more they strengthened the Twain estate’s copyright argument that it, as the owner of all things written by Twain, owned this book, too. And Twain had a deal with Harper & Brothers that gave it the sole rights to publish books by Twain, so Hutchings and her publisher would have to produce credible evidence that he wanted to break that deal in his afterlife.

They just don’t make them like this any more. I’ve been pretty happy with the reception this piece has gotten, too, including a write-up by Techdirt and the lead spot in the Paris Review’s link roundup this week.

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