Greetings, Gentle Readers. A question about the copyright of Georgette Heyer’s books came up on Twitter, and I thought it worth dedicating a blog post to it. I hasten to add that I am not a lawyer, nor an expert on copyright. I am just putting together the information I know.
The Black Moth was published in 1921. My understanding of copyright is that any book published prior to 1923 is in the public domain. The text is available on Project Gutenberg, which lends credence to this idea. However, my paperback copy of The Black Moth, published by Harlequin in 2003, has a copyright statement of “Copyright 1929 by Georgette Heyer.” Was the copyright re-registered in 1929? Does the pre-1923 original publication trump that re-registration? Perhaps. Like I said, not an expert. Sourcebooks is keeping it in print, and no doubt pays royalties to the Heyer estate, if one is scrupulous about such things.
Heyer did not care for certain of her early novels. When publishers, noting her success, later suggested publishing her backlist, she never allowed these novels to be included. They are The Great Roxhythe, Instead of the Thorn, Helen, Pastel, and Barren Corn. The first is a historical novel set during the Restoration and the others are contemporary novels set in the 1920s, when they were written and published.
Several small publishers have reprinted these five books at various times since the 1970s. The edition of The Great Roxhythe that I borrowed from my local library system was published by Buccaneer Books. There is no publication year, though a similar edition on ABE claims a 1978 publication date. The copyright statement is “Copyright 1923 by Small, Maynard and Company, Inc.” Small, Maynard published the first U.S. edition. A curious statement; wouldn’t copyright belong to the author? According to Mary Fahnestock-Thomas in Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective, “…the four contemporary novels [Heyer] published early on and subsequently suppressed have been available in unauthorized American reprints since the 1970s, when their international copyright expired.” (p. 55) Roxhythe should also be included in these unauthorized reprints. When I first learned about these books and tried to purchase them, the prices for the hardback reprints were prohibitive (to me) but there are relatively affordable paperback editions available now, if one wishes to purchase them. I don’t particularly wish to own them, so I’m glad they are available in my local library system. (But check out the cover of the paperback edition at right. The fashions are off by nearly 250 years! And it’s not a dancing kind of book by any stretch. The review is coming soon.)
As far as Heyer’s other books go, the copyright for each is owned by the Heyer estate, though it’s a complicated situation. The following information all comes from Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller by Jennifer Kloester.
For most of her career, Heyer felt pressing financial concerns despite her success. She was often the main support not only of her immediate family but also of her mother and other family members, and sometimes overspent her income and found herself in immediate need of cash, often to pay taxes. Thus, in 1940 Heyer sold the copyrights of These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and Regency Buck to her publisher, Heinemann, for £750. Kloester writes, “The contract also included a clause giving to Heinemann fifty per cent of any film rights in These Old Shades and twenty-five per cent of the film rights to the other two novels (in 2000 Random House voluntarily agreed to cancel the 1940 contract and return full rights for the three novels to the Heyer Estate).” (p. 211)
In 1946 the Rougiers (Heyer’s married name) formed a limited liability company, Heron Enterprises, that would own the copyright of her future novels. The first book owned by Heron was The Foundling. “For the next twenty-two years Heron Enterprises would own the copyright in Georgette’s novels.” (p. 267) The idea was to save tax money by having the royalties paid to Heron and drawing a salary.
Unfortunately, the Rougiers were not great at managing their money, and they hired an accountant who did not act for them advantageously. In 1966, they finally hired a new accountant, who recommended that they sell Heron Enterprises and the copyrights that it owned. In 1968, they received an offer from Booker Bros., a food wholesaler that wished to diversify its holdings and had already purchased copyrights of books by Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming. “She, Ronald (her husband) and Richard (her son) had sold their shares in Heron Enterprises for £80,000, with a gentleman’s agreement that she could buy back the copyrights at any time.” (p. 370) And yes, that is the Booker as in the literary prize. As Kloester points out in a footnote, “Ironically, none of the writers (Fleming, Christie and Heyer) whose royalties had made the prize possible wrote the sort of fiction likely to be considered by the Booker.” (p. 370) Something to keep in mind with regard to genre snobbery.
Heyer died in 1974, and her husband two years later. Kloester writes that Richard Rougier “inherited the bulk of his parents’ estate including those of Georgette’s copyrights not owned by Booker (he eventually bought those back).” (p. 392) So the copyrights for all of Heyer’s work, save, depending on one’s opinion of copyright law, The Black Moth and the five suppressed novels, are owned by the Heyer estate.
My own collection of Heyer novels comprise some older editions purchased used; some Arrow editions, published in the UK, that I imported when the books were not in print in the U.S. (and very few people were parting with their used copies!); some editions that Harlequin reprinted in the early 2000s; and some ebooks republished by Sourcebooks. My copy of Sylvester, republished by Harlequin in 2004, says “Copyright 1957 by Georgette Heyer, Copyright renewed 1985 by Richard George Rougier.” That makes me think that the repurchase occurred around 1985, and the copyright returned to the Heyer estate and was thus renewed. However, my copy of False Colours, published by Arrow in 1992, says only “Copyright 1963 by Georgette Heyer.” That was certainly published during the Heron era, but only Heyer’s copyright claim seems to be considered necessary. That could, of course, be due to the differences between UK and U.S. copyright law. (Again: not an expert. This is just speculation.) My copy of These Old Shades, also published by Arrow in 1997, says only “Copyright 1927 by Georgette Heyer.” This is curious as apparently the copyright was, technically, still owned by Heinemann/Random House until 2000 as already stated. So I’m thoroughly confused; however, the larger point is that the majority of the books’ copyrights do belong to the Heyer estate. Sourcebooks is keeping them in print in the U.S., and Arrow in the UK and Commonwealth territories. We are living in a golden age of sorts for Heyer fans–as I joked on Facebook, back in the day (the 1990s) I had to import them from the UK at some expense (about $12 per mass-market paperback with exchange rate and shipping) or scour eBay and ABE both ways uphill barefoot in the snow. 😉 I’m glad for those discovering Heyer–or wishing to expand their collection–that the books are so easy to get now.