(urth) OT: R.A. Lafferty estate's problems explained
kierkegaurdian at gmail.com
Sun Jul 14 14:19:35 PDT 2013
Seeing how suit-happy the world has become, I can see why everyone involved would be interested in covering their behinds, but I agree that the concept of legal owning an idea that broad is silly.
From: "Marc Aramini" <marcaramini at yahoo.com>
Sent: 7/14/2013 3:24 PM
To: "The Urth Mailing List" <urth at lists.urth.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) OT: R.A. Lafferty estate's problems explained
How can they have intellectual rights to something as general as freezing time, a fantasy of probably just about everyone who has ever lived? Absolutely ludicrous. Gene Wolfe might as well claim property rights to every book which has a male character who has eaten a potato chip. Intellectual rights are bunk; nothing is new under the sun.
Sent from my iPhone
On Jul 13, 2013, at 8:47 PM, Gwern Branwen <gwern at gwern.net> wrote:
>> It’s well known that sorting out R.A. Lafferty’s estate has been, in legal terms, a mess. What’s less well known is how “The Six Fingers of Time” contributed to that mess.
>> For almost a decade, the Lafferty estate was a byword for snarled probate cases. Though he had a valid will leaving everything to his last surviving sibling, Mary, she died while he was in a nursing home. The several strokes he had suffered as well as the gradual deterioration caused by Alzheimer’s meant he was not of sound mind to update the will; as neither Mary nor any other of Lafferty’s siblings had any children, this meant that his estate and literary rights passed to all his surviving relatives—and though Ray and his brothers and sister may have been unusual in their lack of issue, the rest of the family more than made up for this oversight.
>> The foremost task of Lafferty’s executor was moving on the literary rights to a group better equipped to represent and propagate Lafferty’s work. But thanks to the probate situation, every single heir (of majority age) would have to approve such an agreement: though extraordinary effort they were just on the verge of one when something happened that spooked some of the heirs—or rather, got them thinking that they had hold of something much more valuable than was probably the case.
>> See, in 1994, Nicholson Baker wrote a novel called _The Fermata_. A film company bought the option, and hired Robert Zemeckis and Neil Gaiman to produce a screenplay. As is often the case, the studio also took out options on any intellectual property whose central conceit was near that of Baker’s book—which was a protagonist with the ability to stop time and manipulate the people around him as he wished. Whether it was Gaiman—who certainly would’ve recognized the surface similarities to “Six Fingers of Time”—or someone else who advised taking out the option, the result was a large amount of money being paid to the Lafferty estate to ensure that a movie would *not* made of that story, lest it encroach on _The Fermata_. Some of the heirs—a few of whom had heard of Philip K. Dick, or noticed that sci-fi seemed to be doing well in the theaters and wasn’t Uncle Ray a famous sci-fi writer?—decided to hold out for the money they were sure was on the way, and quashed the original deal.
>> As of this writing, of course, Baker’s _Fermata_ has yet to be filmed, and the screenplay has gone through at least three versions. (A film in 2006, _Cashback_, did rip off that central conceit, but it lacked the grotesque seediness of Baker’s novel, and pretty much everything from Lafferty’s story.) And up through the actual sale of the state to the Locus Foundation last year, “Six Fingers” was still the last and only high-dollar Hollywood option taken out on any of Lafferty’s tales—which might have explained the willingness of the heirs to finally agree to the sale for $75,000 (with a provision for splitting the purse, should Tinseltown come calling in the future).
>> The odd thing in all this, of course (or *an* odd thing) is that the stoppage of time is likely the least original element in “Six Fingers of Time” (Robert Bloch’s “The Hell-Bound Train” is only one of many tales around that time presenting similar temporal tricks). I
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