Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Copyright Confusion

One of the rules of fiction is that it has to make sense; hence the saying "truth is stranger than fiction." If I were to turn my current research problem into a story, nobody would find it believable. So, here are the facts as I know them:

Reginald Pelham Bolton and his wife Kate had a daughter, Ivy, and a son, Guy. Both children grew up to be writers; Ivy wrote historical novels, and Guy wrote plays and musical comedies. Their personal lives, however, were very different.

Ivy entered the Community of St. Mary, an Episcopal Benedictine order, in 1911 and took life vows at the Motherhouse in Peekskill, New York, on August 18, 1914, taking the name Sister Mercedes. Her novels were published after that, so presumably they would be the property of the community, which was incorporated in New York State on June 17, 1865. She died at the Motherhouse on May 9, 1961.

Guy was born in England, moved to the United States as a child, and spent the rest of his life moving back and forth between England and America. He married four times and had children by three of his wives, but only one daughter survived him. He died in England in September 1979. Both the Social Security Death Index and the Death Index for England agree upon this.

Now the confusion arises. Ivy had a novel published April 21, 1952, which meant that its first term of copyright expired in 1980. There was a renewal filed with the US Copyright Office on December 15, 1980. The claimant was "Guy Bolton, 38 Green Street, London W1, England" claiming as "the next of kin of the deceased author Ivy Bolton there being no probated will." The renewal was charged to the account of Simon & Schuster, and the form was signed by someone there who certified that she was the duly authorized agent of Guy Bolton. (Guy had been dead for over a year.)

So now the questions begin:
  1. Did Ivy own the copyright in the first place, or did it belong to her Community?
  2. Do religious Sisters ever have probated wills?
  3. Does being a person's authorized agent survive the person's death?
  4. And, of course, is this a valid renewal?

Personally, I don't think it is, but I also think I'm going to need help with this one. So I called Kelley Anne Way, the wonderful copyright lawyer that the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust uses, and said, "Kelley, I've got something weird for you...."