+++ February 2007 +++
When the production of the German drei ??? audio plays came to a stop in 2005, whereas new drei ??? novels were still published and the production of a Three Investigators movie about to be completed, there was great confusion among the fans. Certain remarks by various people led to a series of conspiracy theories, especially after EUROPA/SonyBMG, the producer of the drei ??? audio plays, had announced in May 2006 that it was successful in acquiring "the rights to the US-original series" and would be launching a new series named Die Dr3i in fall. US-original series? Who was SonyBMG negotiating with? Suddenly the focus was on Elisabeth Arthur, one of the two heirs of Robert Arthur -- the creator of the Three Investigators series.
We decided it was about time to contact Elisabeth Arthur and ask her extensively about the development of the Three Investigators series. At once she agreed on the interview via e-mail and we started with it in August 2006. A few times the current developments made it necessary to extend our list of questions, which must be seen as an advantage after the event. The result is a coherent insight into an extremely complicated matter of a traditional juvenile mystery series -- from the series creator's daughter's point of view.
(This is the original version of the interview which is being published simultaneously in a German translation.)
Elizabeth Arthur, © Marion Ettlinger
|Elizabeth Arthur is the daughter of the creator of The Three Investigators. She is also a widely published American writer. The recipient of many awards, she has published five novels and two memoirs. Her work has been translated into Spanish, Hungarian, German, and Japanese; her novel Antarctic Navigation was published by Wolfgang Krüger Verlag and Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag as Eislandfahrt.
|1. Had Robert Arthur received the German copies of Terror Castle (1968) and Whispering Mummy (1969) before he passed away? If yes, what was his reaction to the adaptation of the "Solve-Them-Yourself-Mysteries" concept, which included the appearance of Alfred Hitchcock, comments within the story?
My father did indeed receive copies of the German edition of The Secret of Terror Castle before he died. In fact, one of the presents I received from him at Christmas in 1968 was a first edition of Die drei ??? und das Gespensterschloss. I was studying German in high school at the time, and my father wrote "Try your German on this!" on the front end paper of my book.
I don't remember Dad discussing the fact that the Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung Stuttgart translation of The Secret of Terror Castle incorporated the Solve-Them-Yourself-Mysteries concept into the German text of The Three Investigators series.
However, I do know that my father came up with the idea for the Random House anthology called Alfred Hitchcock's Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries, which was aimed at a juvenile audience, and which was published in 1963 -- a year before The Secret of Terror Castle was published in America.
In Alfred Hitchcock's Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries, my father not only wrote the introductions (attributed to Hitchcock) and inserted the commentaries, but he also wrote, or rewrote, (in the Solve-Them-Yourself format) all five of the stories, four of which were his own.
I therefore presume that either my father or an editor at Random House must have worked with Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung Stuttgart on the adaptation of the Solve-Them-Yourself concept for the German translations of my father's Three Investigators novels.
|2. What was Robert Arthur's actual function in the TV series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents"? To what extent did Robert Arthur keep in touch with Alfred Hitchcock? Did they know each other personally? Was it Robert Arthur who came up with the idea of including Alfred Hitchcock in the Three Investigators series? At that point of time, did Robert Arthur plan to start a private detective series and decided afterwards to involve Alfred Hitchcock in it, or was the main idea to create a series featuring Alfred Hitchcock in the first place, resulting in the juvenile mystery series "Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators"?
Dad was a story editor for the television program "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." He also wrote scripts for Hitchcock, but as a story editor, he was not merely a freelance writer, but part of the production team of the TV series. In those days, story editors developed ideas, chose writers, and edited scripts, and thus had a lot more influence than story editors do nowadays.
So, yes, Dad did know Alfred Hitchcock personally, although only in a professional way, and only after he was hired on to the Hitchcock TV program, which was late in 1959 or early in 1960, after my parents got divorced, and my father moved from Yorktown Heights, New York, out to Hollywood. (He made this move because, by 1959, it was getting harder and harder for a writer to make a living in any medium other than the medium of television.)
As for the idea of including Alfred Hitchcock in the Three Investigators series, it was definitely my father who came up with the idea, and he was almost certainly inspired not by Hitchcock's television program, but rather by the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" line of mystery anthologies for adults.
Dad started to edit this line of anthologies in 1961, when Random House asked him to take over from the former editor. In 1961, Dad was still living in California and working for Alfred Hitchcock's TV series, and, because of the timing, I have always assumed that someone connected with the TV series, (perhaps even Hitchcock) must have suggested to Random House that my father would make a good editor for their line of adult Hitchcock mystery anthologies.
However, even after my father left his job in California, and moved back east to live nearer to me and my brother, (after his aunt, and my great-aunt, Margaret Arthur, asked him to share a house with her in Cape May, New Jersey,) he continued to edit the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" line of mystery anthologies for adults. This eventually included Stories For Late At Night, Stories My Mother Never Told Me, Stories Not For The Nervous, and Stories That Scared Even Me. Each of those anthologies included at least one of Dad's own stories, and -- like The Three Investigators novels -- each one began with an introduction supposedly written by Alfred Hitchcock, but really written by my father.
It was also after my father left California, (early in 1963,) that he came up with the idea of writing a juvenile mystery book series.
As for the other part of your question, the idea for the book series and the idea of using Alfred Hitchcock's name and image to promote it definitely arrived at the same moment.
I am sure of this because, (as it happened,) during the months when my father was working on The Secret of Terror Castle, I had just turned ten years old, and since I was the approximate age of my father's intended audience, my father used to ask me, quite seriously, what I thought about various ideas he had in development.
For example, at one time, Dad considered giving Jupiter Jones the name "Genius Jones," and when he asked me whether I thought "Genius Jones" or "Jupiter Jones" was better, I told him I would never be friends with a boy whose nickname was "Genius."
He also asked me what I thought about Alfred Hitchcock's movies and television programs, but since, at the time, I had never seen any of them, in that regard I wasn't much help to him.
|3. Can you think of any major influences for the series or any inspirations for the specific titles? From your point of view, how much does the Three Investigators series distinguish itself from other contemporary juvenile mystery series? Was the series created in order to compete with the Hardy Boys?
The series was definitely created in order to compete with the Hardy Boys. Since I never read the Hardy Boys when I was a child, I can't compare the two series, but as a sometime reader of the Nancy Drew books, I can say that when I read the first two Three Investigators books, I thought my father had blown away the competition.
Not only were the mysteries in The Secret of Terror Castle and The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot real mysteries, but at a time when the young heroes of American juvenile books (both mystery and non-mystery) were likely to come from idealized upper-middle class families, Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews all seemed to me like real boys, with real parents, or (in Jupiter's case,) a real aunt and uncle who were interestingly eccentric.
I especially liked the fact that Jupiter's dead parents were mysterious figures about whom one could assume almost anything, and the fact that Jupiter lived in a junk yard.
To me, that seemed like genius, since what could possibly be better than to locate the Headquarters of a grown-up business like an investigative business in the center of a junk yard?
That actually brings me to what I think would have to be considered the most important influence on The Three Investigators series -- the impact which California had upon my father when he moved there.
I know something about that impact because when my father was living and working in Hollywood, he wrote me a good many letters in which he detailed the strange habits and customs of the California natives.
I still have the letters, and when I went back and re-read them as an adult, I could see that as a man who had spent his entire adult life either in New York City or close enough to the city to commute to it by train, my father simply couldn't warm up to a place where it was impossible to get anywhere using public transportation, and where the system of interconnecting freeways was, even then, frustrating and inefficient.
In addition, as someone who had survived the Great Depression not only by working hard as a writer, but by being careful with what he earned, my father was both amazed and appalled by the throwaway culture he found in California.
Those two aspects of his life in Hollywood apparently needed to find expression in his writing, and as he developed the concepts for The Three Investigators series, his frustration with the lack of public transportation in California created one of the most important ongoing motifs in the original American series -- the fact that the boys, being too young to drive, had no reasonable way to investigate mysteries which lay more than a bicycle ride away from their houses, until Jupiter exercised his native intelligence and won the use of a chauffeured Rolls Royce in a contest.
As for my father's objection to California's throwaway culture, it clearly found expression in the Jones Salvage Yard, where -- like Jupiter's uncle, Titus -- my father was able to imaginatively salvage and eventually reuse all sorts of wonderful objects that might otherwise have been thrown away.
Of course, you could also say that one of my father's best ideas for The Three Investigators series -- the idea that Jupiter Jones would be the nephew of a man who owned a salvage yard -- probably came to him because by the time he created the Three Investigators series, his own mind was a little like that salvage yard -- stocked with a lifetime of excellent writing ideas just waiting to be put to new use.
|4. Before 1964 Robert Arthur had already had a wide range of career achievements. Interestingly, from one of his "Mysterious Traveler" audio plays a statement of an auctioneer was almost completely transferred to another auctioneer speech from The Talking Skull. Are there any other examples known in which Robert Arthur used fragments for the Three Investigators series from his older works?
I don't think I've ever read the audio play you are referring to. Since Dad and his partner David Kogan wrote almost four hundred and fifty scripts, it's been hard to keep track of all of them. As for the question about whether or not my father incorporated fragments from his older work into The Three Investigators series, I am not personally aware of any examples, although, obviously, my father was inspired by his work in radio when he wrote The Mystery of the Screaming Clock, and came up with the character of Bert Clock.
|5. What is today still available from Robert Arthur's work? Are there any manuscripts of the Three Investigators series or any letters of correspondence between Robert Arthur and the publishing houses? How about manuscripts of his short stories? Have there ever been any plans to reprint some of his stories (e.g. Mystery and More Mystery) or to create anthologies? Who is in charge of administering his works? Has the University of Michigan ever played a role in it?
The only two anthologies of his own short stories which my father himself put together in his lifetime were Mystery and More Mystery and Ghosts and More Ghosts, both of which were originally published by Random House, and both of which have been out of print for a long time now.
However, I have been collecting as many of the stories my father published in pulp magazines during the 1930's and 40's as I have been able to locate, and my husband Steven Bauer and I have spent a lot of time scanning the stories, correcting the errors in the scans, and then formatting the stories as electronic files.
So yes, there are definitely plans to reprint some of my father's stories, and although the task of compiling the hundreds of stories which were never anthologized in his lifetime has been complicated by the fact that my father was such a prolific writer that he had to publish a lot of his stories using pseudonyms, (so that he could place two or three of his stories in a single issue of a single magazine,) my husband and I are making real progress on the task of collecting, scanning and formatting the stories.
In fact, we hope to complete the task of collecting and scanning at least a hundred and fifty stories within the next twelve months, after which time my husband -- who is a writer and a professor of creative writing as well as a very good editor -- will be putting together and editing a comprehensive collection, perhaps in a multi-volume format.
As for your question about manuscripts and/or correspondence regarding the Three Investigators series, all correspondence would have been with Random House, and when Random House decided to stop publishing new Three Investigators novels in the early 1990's, and my father's last editor, Jenny Fanelli, left Random House at about the same time, almost everything about the history of The Three Investigators was either neglected or forgotten, since a series of changes in the management (and, eventually, the ownership) of Random House created a climate in which there was little institutional memory about anything that had happened before 1990.
Even so, logic suggests that there must be quite extensive Three Investigators files stored somewhere in Random House's annex, and that some of those files must (at the least) contain letters my father wrote to his editors.
However, although I have long been asking Random House to please locate and/or send me any correspondence still in Random House's files, no one in a position of authority has ever responded to any of my requests, and since, technically, Random House would be (and is) the legal owner of any letters sent to its editors, there is little I can do about the situation.
As for your question about The University of Michigan, I should probably clarify that, for tax reasons, in his last will and testament my father left his alma mater, the University of Michigan, certain rights deriving from his stories and/or novels.
Specifically, he left Michigan first-term copyright rights in stories that had been copyrighted in his name. He also left Michigan certain revenues deriving from his Three Investigators contracts with Random House.
Random House itself owned the copyrights to Dad's ten Three Investigators books, but American law permitted my father to direct that, in the event of his death, any revenues which might be owed to him in future, as a result of the terms of specific publishing contracts, should be paid to some other party for as long as the original contracts remained valid.
In his will, my father therefore stipulated that, in the event of his death, Random House (which was really my father's only publisher at the time of his death) should send the Regents of the University of Michigan any royalties which Random House would have paid to my father if my father had lived.
This was because in the United States, bequests left to educational institutions aren't subject to estate tax, and my father had been advised by his attorney, Walter Wright, that if he left the contractual right to collect future revenues from his publishing contracts to his principal heirs, (i.e. to me and my brother) the United States Internal Revenue Service could assign a large (theoretical) value to those possible future earnings, and could subsequently levy an estate tax which could wipe out the whole of Dad's actual estate.
Unfortunately, although Walter Wright was a kind and conscientious man, and was also a personal friend of my father's, (he lived right down the street from Dad and Aunt Margaret on Franklin Street, in Cape May) by the time Mr. Wright wrote my father's last will and testament, he had become a Presbyterian minister, and was no longer practicing law.
However, even when he had been practicing, he had never had any training in the special laws and practices which apply to writers, and he knew little, if anything, about the nature of a literary estate.
Consequently, not only did Mr. Wright give my father what would certainly now be considered poor legal advice as regards the issue of how best to achieve my father's goal -- which was to protect his children's inheritance from what he believed might become a crippling estate tax -- Mr. Wright also had no way of understanding that it was at least possible that my father's publishing contracts might actually generate some income during the years to come.
Of course, from this historical distance, it is a little hard to reconstruct the situation as it was in 1969, but when what is now our past was still the future, even my father could have had little reason to believe that the future royalties on the Three Investigators series would amount to anything.
When he changed his will to incorporate the new paragraph about The University of Michigan, Dad had earned a total of $16,000 for all ten of his Three Investigators books taken together.
In other words, Dad's advances were, on average, $1,600 per book, and since the $16,000 had been paid to him by Random House over a period lasting five years, his average earnings per year had been something like $3,000.
Moreover, my father believed -- quite correctly -- that the odds against any writer (even a very good one) ever even earning back an advance (much less making money in excess of that advance) were really pretty long.
In other words, when my father took the advice of Walter Wright and changed his will to leave the future royalties from his Random House contracts to the University of Michigan, he was unable to see into the future.
He could not know that, in that future, lightning was going to strike his children's book series.
He did, however, know that he himself had various complex historical reasons to fear that if he died, the Internal Revenue Service might place an unfair tax burden on his actual heirs -- i.e. on me and my brother -- and although the historical reasons are too complicated to go into at the moment, one of the first ironies of what is now a story chock-full of ironies is that because my father distrusted pretty much anyone who seemed to him to represent the interests of the government, the powers-that-be, the ruling class, etc., he also distrusted most lawyers.
He therefore chose, as his lawyer and executor, a close personal friend, who might not have been the most knowledgeable lawyer who had ever passed the bar, but who could be trusted to do his best to look out for me and my brother in the event of my father's premature death.
I should, perhaps, mention, that my father had been saving up to pay for my college education for years by then, and he was worried that if he died, and the estate tax ate up all of his actual savings, it might be difficult for me to get a college education. He therefore took Walter Wright's advice about how best to shelter his savings.
However, when he did so, he and Mr. Wright were both fully aware that the bequest to Michigan would not be, in any sense, a permanent one. Indeed, they both knew that whatever rights my father might leave to Michigan would sooner or later revert to me and my brother, under the terms of the current copyright law.
Since the whole topic of first and second term copyrights is fairly complicated, for the time being I will just say that the copyright law which was in existence at the time my father was writing provided for the automatic reversion of all my father's interests in his writing to me and my brother at the end of a period of twenty-eight years after the date of the first publication of the work in question.
Since Dad had published most of his short stories between the years 1940 and 1955, the copyrights in his short stories started reverting to me and my brother almost immediately after his death, and kept reverting through the 1970's and 1980's, but since the Three Investigators novels were the last works Dad had written, they were also the last works which reverted.
To return to your question about the role that Michigan played in administering my father's works, the short answer is not much of a one.
This was partly because Walter Wright, believing that my father's bequest to Michigan would be almost entirely without real value, had failed to ensure that my father's will stipulate that the University of Michigan would need to appoint an estate administrator if it wanted to benefit from the bequest.
In addition, Mr. Wright didn't know enough about writers, or writing, to advise my father to at least appoint a literary executor.
Since I was only fifteen when my father died, I was not, at the time, in a position to do anything about these oversights.
Consequently, not only did my father's estate lack a literary executor, but no estate administrator was ever appointed by the University of Michigan, and during the years that followed my father's death, his bequest to Michigan ended up generating a huge amount of confusion.
The sad truth of the matter is that even after Michigan started getting quite sizable biannual checks from Random House, it showed no interest whatever in managing my father's literary legacy, providing information to his fans, or even setting up a Robert Arthur writing scholarship. It simply took the checks out of the envelopes and cashed them.
As a consequence, during the twenty-odd years when Michigan was receiving money from Random House for revenues generated by The Three Investigators series, bibliographers and others who approached the University seeking information about my father or his work either received no information, or information that was incomplete or incorrect.
For that reason, all of the reference works which document bodies of work like my father's became littered with errors between the years 1970 and 1990, and once I took over trying to handle my father's estate, in the early 1990's, I was told repeatedly that requests to the University of Michigan for information about my father's stories, books, and other work had been met with either total silence, or misinformation on the part of the University.
In addition, although my father's short stories started reverting to me and my brother almost immediately after my father died, no one at Michigan seemed able to grasp the concept that Michigan would need to be careful about which stories it still controlled, and which it did not, and I know for a fact that during the 1980's, a number of stories which were no longer controlled by Michigan were included in various anthologies by editors who certainly never asked me or my brother for permission to anthologize them.
While I have no proof that the editors in question got their permissions from Michigan, I am reasonably certain that they must have.
The fact is, it would not surprise me in the slightest to learn that, even now, Michigan is still giving out incorrect information about my father's life, my father's work, and/or the current rights situation.
I should add that it would not have surprised my father, either. He had no particular love for the University of Michigan, and no particular belief that an educational institution would be any more careful, or noble, than the usual kind of corporation.
As for Mr. Wright, I do think Michigan's behavior would have surprised him, because although he may not have known much about literary estates to begin with, after my father died, he labored for over four years to put together a bibliography of Dad's work -- one which included the reversion date of every story. He was rightly proud of that bibliography, which must have been extremely difficult to put together from the records in existence at the time.
Sadly, Michigan (apparently) promptly lost or misplaced the result of four years of labor on the part of Mr. Wright.
|6. Were there any attempts in the 1960s and 1970s to make a TV series or a movie based on The Three Investigators? If yes, what were the reasons for not being successful? Was Alfred Hitchcock supposed to be the host of an "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" series for children and or young adults? Did your father have such plans when he started to write the Three Investigators series?
Although I am sure that when he created The Three Investigators series my father hoped that he could eventually persuade his contacts in Hollywood to make the series into a television program, it would have been up to Random House to arrange for any performance rights deal in the period of time which passed between the date on which my father died and the date on which his ten Three Investigators novels entered their second copyright term.
That's because although my father had left the future revenues from his contracts with Random House to the University of Michigan, Random House itself was the owner of the first-term copyrights of my father's ten Three Investigators novels, and because Random House owned the first-term copyrights, but also because in the contracts my father had signed with Random House between 1964 and 1968, he had given Random House exclusive worldwide performance rights, (as well as exclusive worldwide audio rights, book rights, etc.,) although Michigan was entitled to receive royalties which might be due to my father under the terms of the relevant contracts, it had no authority to initiate any action as regards the Three Investigators series.
Since my father had granted Random House exclusive worldwide performance rights, (and that grant would last until the original contracts expired at the end of the first United States copyright term,) it would have been up to Random House, (not Michigan,) to attempt to interest a production company in the performance rights for The Three Investigators series between the date on which my father died and the date on which the first of the original contracts expired.
However, as far as I know, the only American production company which ever even came close to getting a movie or a television series based on The Three Investigators into production in Hollywood was a company called Wild Films, which optioned the performance rights from Random House in 1997.
By that time, my brother and I had become the owners of the second-term copyrights to my father's ten Three Investigators novels, but the contract we had signed with Random House in 1991 had granted Random House worldwide performance rights until such time, (if ever) as the underlying intellectual property rights in the series reverted to me and my brother.
(Under the terms of our contract with Random House, this could only happen if Dad's books went out of print in the United States.)
However, even though I had had no say in the selection of Wild Films by Random House, when I learned about the performance rights option, I contacted Wild Film's president, Nicky Noxon. I found her generous and charming and in the course of time she and I became friends.
Consequently, even though by the late 1990's I was getting frustrated with Random House's lack of interest in The Three Investigators series, I never stopped hoping that Wild Films would be successful in its quest to move the series into a new medium.
However, although Nicky and her partner came close on a number of occasions, nothing ever quite came together, and when, (in the spring of 2002,) I learned from the series editor at Random House that Random House had let all of my father's novels go out of print in America for the second time in ten years, Nicky could not have been more understanding about my decision to try to regain the underlying rights to the series, and, after the reversion, helped me to make good decisions about what to do with the performance rights.
|7. Alfred Hitchcock died in 1980. Who was responsible for the "Revised Editions" in the early 1980s in which Alfred Hitchcock was replaced in the first 30 books? Who was the head of the decision-making process? Did you revise the books or was it the editor Jenny Fanelli? Have you ever regretted the decision to remove Alfred Hitchcock from the series? Do you think his drop-out led, in the long run, to the end of the series? Who came up with the idea of a "Crimebusters" sequel? Did Random House need your permission for it? Were you allowed to veto against a sequel? Today, what is your opinion about this rather short-term experiment?
As I have explained, at the time the revised editions came out, Random House was the owner of the copyrights of all of the Three Investigators books, (including the books written by my father,) and was also, (effectively,) the owner of all of the rights in The Three Investigators series, since Random House controlled those rights lock, stock, and barrel.
Random House therefore could make entirely unilateral editorial decisions, like the decision to delete Alfred Hitchcock from the series in the early 1980's, the decision to end the Three Investigators series proper in the late 1980s, and the decision to create the Crimebusters sub-series at the end of the 1980's.
However, at some point in the 1990's, I had the chance to speak with Jenny Fanelli, (who, by that time, had retired from publishing,) and after our conversation, I had the strong impression that Random House's decision to drop Alfred Hitchcock from the series was essentially a financial one. Random House no longer wished to pay Hitchcock's estate for the use of his name and image on a series that Random House felt could survive without it.
Even so, my personal opinion would be that the deletion of Hitchcock from the series was not what led to the eventual end of the series in the United States. I think the series ended in the United States because Random House made what I consider to be the bad editorial decision to "grow" the boys up to an age when they could drive, and to reduce both the size and the quality of the mystery novels in the short-lived Crimebusters sub-series.
In growing the boys up, Random House lost the existing audience for the books without having a rational plan for finding a new one.
|8. Why was the Three Investigators series stopped in 1987? If the sales were too low in the United States, this leads to another question. The series had still been successful in foreign countries until there were no new books from America to be translated, resulting in the stop of receiving royalties. Was it impossible to let American writers continue writing Three Investigators books without publishing them in the USA? Is it true that the series was stopped because Jenny Fanelli, the longtime editor, retired?
Your very sensible questions make me wish that you had been working at Random House in the late 1980's, since (as far as I can tell) the original Three Investigators series was, in fact, discontinued because of what would no doubt have been only a temporary drop in U.S. sales -- if the drop in sales had not been rendered permanent by the fact that the series was replaced by what I myself believe was an inferior sub-series.
I know that Dennis Lynds (who wrote Three Investigators novels using the pseudonym William Arden) would have liked to continue writing Three Investigators novels, if he had been given the opportunity to do so, but I'm afraid that at the time the series was discontinued in America, no one at Random House even considered the possibility of allowing American writers to continue writing books which might not be published in the United States until the climate improved here. The series simply got the ax.
|9. Do you know if M.V. Carey completed writing #44 The Mystery of the Ghost Train? Who owns this story now and who has the rights to it?
I don't know if M.V. Carey completed writing The Mystery of the Ghost Train, but I hope so, because she was a very good writer, and I have always been pleased that one of the three major writers of the original American series was a woman.
As to who owns the story now, (and who has the rights to it,) if the novel actually still existed, my brother and I would own the underlying intellectual property rights. These are commonly called the "character rights," but they are really the rights to use the characters, the setting, and all the important basic concepts of a series like The Three Investigators series.
(The basic concepts would include, for example, The Jones Salvage Yard, The Three Investigators business card, The Ghost-to-Ghost Hook-Up, the Rolls Royce, Headquarters, the three question marks, the colored chalk, and (of course!) the town of Rocky Beach.)
Therefore, if the story actually still existed, my brother and I would also own what are often called the exploitation rights. The exploitation rights are the publishing rights, the electronic rights, the merchandising rights, the performance rights, the broadcast rights, etc.
However, either M.V. Carey's estate or Random House would own the text of the book.
That is actually always the situation with a book that is based upon someone else's original creation.
Either the author of the derivative work or the publisher who commissions it will generally own the text of the derivative work.
However, the owner of the character rights will always have the right to decide whether or not the derivative work should be published, and (if so) in what media and territory.
In other words, although the owner of the text of a derivative work and the owner of the character rights which underlie that work both have the right to receive royalties, the owner of the text of a derivative work must always have the permission of the owner of the character rights before that work can be published in any particular media or territory.
|10. Do you own a copy of Crimebusters #12 (Brain Wash by Peter Lerangis) and #13 (High Strung by G.H. Stone) which were never released? Who owns the rights to these two books?
In the case of these books, too, if they still exist, then either Peter Lerangis and/or G.H. Stone or Random House would own the texts to the books, but my brother and I would own the character rights.
We would therefore own the right to decide whether or not the books should be published, and -- with no insult intended to any of the writers of the Crimebusters sub-series -- I doubt that I myself would want to see any more books published in that particular sub-series. I simply don't think it was strong enough to justify its continuation into the future.
|11. What was the reason for republishing the first 11 novels of the series by Random House in 1998-2000? Since the republishing process came to an end after all ten books by Robert Arthur had been made available, it is possible to conclude that the publishing house had a certain stipulation in the contract or certain copyright requirements had to be fulfilled. Also, in several sources of information about the copyrights of the Robert Arthur books (US Copyright Office and imprints in the books published in the late 1990s) there is one exception regarding the Talking Skull episode -- the copyright is assigned exclusively to Random House and there is no mention of your copyright renewal. Could you explain this exception?
Your guess as to the reason why Random House briefly placed the first eleven novels in the series back into print is absolutely correct.
As I mentioned earlier in this interview, the contract my brother and I signed with Random House in 1991 allowed us to regain the rights in, to, and deriving from my father's Three Investigators novels at such time, (if ever) as Random House allowed my father's books to go out of print in the United States.
Earlier in this interview, (in my answer to your fifth question) I also referred to the fact that the contract rights which my father had left to the University of Michigan in his will would terminate when his ten Three Investigators novels entered their second copyright term.
Under the provisions of the United States copyright law in effect at the time my father was writing, all of the rights which Dad had granted to Random House in the ten Three Investigators contracts he had signed between 1964 and 1968 would automatically have reverted to my father, if he had still been alive twenty-eight years after each of the original copyrights was issued.
As it was, since my father was no longer alive, all rights in, to, and deriving from his ten Three Investigators novels instead reverted to me and my brother.
In other words, the American copyright law governing books originally copyrighted before the year 1977 stipulated that all licenses an author might originally have granted to a publisher would automatically revert either to the author or to the author's heirs at the end of twenty-eight years, as long as the author (or his heirs) executed renewal forms and filed them with the United States Copyright Office.
Since I understand that in Germany there is no formal process by which either a publisher or an author can register a copyright, perhaps I should clarify for your readers that, in America, the process of copyright registration is quite formal, and requires that the publisher or author send specific registration forms to the United States Copyright Office at the Library of Congress in order to create a clear public record as to the copyright owner.
Sometimes publishers end up as copyright owners simply because they are so much more powerful than writers that writers often have little real bargaining power when it comes to negotiating contracts, especially if they have no agents.
To the best of my understanding, it was in order to protect the rights of writers and writers' families by making sure that it was impossible for a writer to permanently lose all of his underlying interests in his own work as a result of an assignment he might have made to a publisher under the pressure of having to earn money to support himself and his family that the United States Congress originally decided to split the seventy-five year term of copyright protection into two portions, a first portion which lasted for twenty-eight years, and a second portion, which lasted for forty-seven years.
In the case of the Three Investigators series, what that meant was that under the terms of the old copyright law, all of the rights which Dad had granted to Random House in the Three Investigators contracts he had signed with Random House between 1964 and 1968 would have automatically reverted to my father at the end of the first copyright term (starting in 1992 and ending in 1997) if my father had still been alive during that time period.
As it was, (since my father was no longer alive,) all of the rights Dad had granted to Random House in the contracts he had signed between 1964 and 1968 reverted to me and my brother starting in 1992, and even though my brother and I were named as my father's principal heirs in his will, (in America, the term for principal heirs is "residuary legatees"), the reason all of the rights which Dad had granted to Random House reverted to me and my brother was not because we were his principal heirs under the terms of his will (which we were) but, rather, because when the United States Congress passed the old copyright law, the Congress specified a statutory order of inheritance for the right of reversion and renewal of copyright.
Statutory inheritance laws are generally laws which are brought to bear when a person dies without any will at all, and the old, protective, copyright law was therefore very unusual (perhaps even unique) in American law.
The law stipulated that the right to renew the copyrights would be offered first to the writer himself, then to his (or her) surviving spouse, and then to his or her surviving children, and since my father and mother had gotten a divorce years before my father's death, and my father therefore had no surviving spouse, my brother and I inherited the right of reversion, under statute.
Anyway, it was because of the provisions of the old copyright law that at the end of the first copyright term, all of the rights which my father had granted to Random House in Three Investigators contracts he had signed between 1964 and 1968 reverted away from Random House, and had Random House not been able to persuade me and my brother to enter into a brand-new contract, Random House would have lost all of its rights in The Three Investigators series.
Obviously, Random House didn't want to lose all its rights in the series, and therefore told me and my brother that if we were willing to grant Random House the same exploitation rights my father had granted Random House under his contracts -- i.e. if we granted Random House comprehensive exclusive worldwide exploitation rights, including audio rights, performance rights etc. -- Random House would keep on commissioning and publishing new Three Investigators books. We therefore granted Random House every exploitation right we could have granted, with the exception of electronic rights and merchandising.
We didn't grant Random House electronic rights for the simple reason that electronic rights were not yet in existence. As for merchandising, Random House somehow didn't even ask for it.
Anyway, under the terms of the negotiated contract, Random House was required to file the proper copyright renewal forms for my father's ten novels with the United States Copyright Office at the proper time, in the name of me and my brother.
Unfortunately, the renewal forms were not filled out by Random House very carefully, and when I finally received the originals of the copyright certificates from Random House, in April of 2003 -- at the same time I finally received a letter confirming the reversion of all rights in The Three Investigators series -- I saw that the copyright certificates contained any number of clerical errors.
By far the worst error occurred in the case of The Mystery of the Talking Skull, since whoever filled out the copyright renewal form and sent it to Washington registered Random House as the claimant, and although the 2003 reversion letter from Random House states quite clearly that all rights in, to, and deriving from The Mystery of the Talking Skull reverted to me and my brother along with the rights to all of my father's other novels, repeated requests to the Random House legal department to actually reregister the Talking Skull copyright in the United States Copyright Office have fallen on deaf ears.
Anyway, to get back to the original topic -- Random House's reasons for briefly republishing the first eleven novels in the Three Investigators series -- as I have said, the 1991 agreement between me and my brother and Random House contained a traditional American "out of print" clause, and even though Random House had actually abandoned the series in the United States even before my brother and I signed the contract -- it had abandoned the series despite its repeated assurances to me and my brother that it intended to keep on commissioning new Three Investigators novels if my brother and I granted Random House exclusive worldwide exploitation rights -- by 1995, Random House was making quite a bit of money on The Three Investigators series through its foreign sub-licenses, including its sub-licenses in Germany.
In 1996 or 1997, the Random House editorial board was therefore (apparently) advised by the Business Affairs department that the editors should abide by the letter of the 1991 agreement, and put my father's books back into print to the minimal extent necessary for Random House to protect its right to collect foreign revenues.
I should add that at the time this happened, I had never even seen any of the foreign sub-licenses which Random House had granted after 1991, and in those days, the Random House royalty statements were so impenetrable that although I received a royalty statement from Random House twice a year, it was difficult to know from looking at the royalty statement which companies were actually paying which royalties in which countries.
As a consequence, the royalty statements did not really help me to understand that in 1994 Random House had granted a sub-license to Kosmos which permitted Kosmos to create German-language-original Three Investigators stories, and had later granted a sub-license for the audio rights in those stories to BMG.
In fact, it was only when I finally got online in 1998, and, (shortly afterwards) started to get e-mail from Three Investigators fans all over the world, (including fans in Germany,) that I fully understood about the success of the German-language-original Three Investigators books and audio tapes.
But although the e-mails from German fans were great to get, and fun to answer, they also threw a spotlight on the e-mails I received from fans in other countries -- all of which basically asked me why the Three Investigators series had gone completely out of print in whatever country my e-mail correspondent lived in.
Of course, even before I started to get these e-mails, I had been frustrated that Random House had not commissioned a single new Three Investigators book in the United States in almost ten years, but when I came to understand that there were readers all over the world who actually wanted to read Three Investigators books, but couldn't, because of Random House's inaction, I decided that if Random House ever gave me another opportunity to invoke the out-of-print clause, I would do my best to get the series away from Random House, so that I could try to launch a new English-language series.
|12. In how many countries were the Three Investigators books published? Could you make a ranking of the five most successful countries? In which countries was the series more successful than in the United States? In which countries didn't the series do well and must be regarded as a flop?
I would say that the countries in which the series was most successful were probably the United States, the U.K., Germany, France, Japan, and Greece. I'm not sure if there are really any countries in which it did poorly enough to be considered a flop, although in countries like Croatia, it certainly had limited sales.
|13. Are you familiar with the Polish new episodes, a sequel of the Crimebusters series? This series has been out of print for only a few years. Is the Polish publishing house not allowed anymore to continue the Crimebusters series on its own?
I am not familiar with the Polish series, but if the Polish publisher published just a few books and then stopped, I presume that either the series did not do well enough in Poland to justify its expenses, or that Random House did not inform the Polish publisher that the rights to the series are now controlled by me and my brother, because I have never received an inquiry from anyone in Poland interested in obtaining character rights.
|14. Aside from Germany and Poland, were there any other foreign publishing houses that asked you about continuing the Three Investigators Crimebuster series?
I have had inquiries from many writers -- including writers in Australia, the U.K., and the United States -- about the Three Investigators series itself, but I have to admit that I have never had any inquiries from anyone who wanted to either write or publish new Crimebusters books!
|15. A few years ago the rights on the ten episodes written by your father were vested in you by Random House. When and how did this happen? What kind of rights exactly are they? Are there any rights on the series concept, independent of any episodes, and who owns it? If there is one, which features constitute the series concept?
As I have mentioned several times in this interview, the contract my brother and I signed with Random House in 1991 allowed us to get back all rights in, to, and deriving from my father's Three Investigators novels from Random House if Random House ever allowed my father's books to go out of print in the United States.
However, the same clause in the contract that gave me and my brother the right to revert all rights in The Three Investigators series also gave Random House sixty days in which to notify us that it intended to put the books back into print, after all.
Since I knew this, I judged that the chance that I would succeed in my attempt to get the character and exploitation rights in the Three Investigators series back from Random House by merely writing a letter was a very slim chance indeed.
Nevertheless, when I learned, (in April of 2002,) that Random House had let my father's books go out of print again, I wrote a letter to the editorial department demanding that Random House either put my father's novels back into print in America or revert all rights in, to, and deriving from those novels to me and my brother.
My letter was passed on to an attorney in the legal department who had recently been placed in charge of contracts relating to children's books, and all that she would have had to do in order to retain worldwide rights in The Three Investigators series for Random House would have been to write me a letter, within sixty days, informing me that Random House intended to do what it had already done once -- i.e. put the books back into print to the minimal extent necessary.
However, as it happened, sixty days after my letter was received by Random House, I had still heard nothing from its legal department, and, consequently, on June 14, 2002, all rights in, to, and deriving from my father's Three Investigators novels reverted to me and my brother ipso facto.
Of course, once the legal department understood what had happened, it did everything in its power to obscure the facts of the case.
The legal department also delayed writing an official reversion letter as long as humanly possible, and for that reason, I did not actually receive a rights reversion document from Random House until April of 2003.
However, once the letter was finally written and delivered, it stated quite clearly that all rights in, to, and deriving from my father's ten Three Investigators novels had reverted to me and my brother on June 30, 2002, and because all of the major elements of The Three Investigators series -- i.e. The Jones Salvage Yard, The Three Investigators business card, The Ghost-to-Ghost Hook-Up, the Rolls Royce, Headquarters, the three question marks, the colored chalk, the town of Rocky Beach, and, of course, the three investigators themselves, as well as their aunts, uncles, fathers, and mothers -- had been created by my father in the ten original Three Investigators novels, when Random House lost all rights in, to, and deriving from my father's novels, Random House also lost all rights to ever again commission a new Three Investigators book, or to ever again grant a new exploitation license for any of the derivative works which had already been published.
|16. When did the movie project start? What was the order of events when the movie plans started ?
The movie project started when I got an inquiry from Studio Hamburg in October of 2002 -- just four months after the rights reversion became final.
As I said earlier in this interview, at the time of the reversion, Wild Films still held a performance rights option through Random House, and since certain licenses granted by Random House prior to the reversion survived the June 30, 2002 reversion date, Wild Films could have held onto the rights until that license expired, well into 2003.
However, Nicky Noxon very kindly let her Random House option lapse, after one last attempt to pitch the project to Dream Works.
Moreover, it was actually Nicky who suggested to me that a German production company might make a lot of sense, and since she made this suggestion at practically the same moment that I received the first inquiry from Studio Hamburg, the timing was perfect, because Studio Hamburg was just about to launch a new English-language division, and when it turned out that the interested producer, Ronald Kruschak, had never read any of the German-language-original novels, but had grown up on the American series in German translation, I was sold on the idea -- not because I had any reason to think that the German-language-original novels weren't excellent, but simply because I knew the American novels personally.
|17. In what way are you involved in this movie project? Were you in South Africa while the movie was shot?
I am involved in the movie project insofar as I am a creative consultant on both the movies and the planned television programs.
I also created a girl character who will be the girl character Studio Hamburg will use if Studio Hamburg ever decides to introduce a female character who will be a permanent addition to the film and television universe of The Three Investigators series.
Unfortunately, I was unable to go to South Africa to observe the filming of The Secret of Skeleton Island because I was quite sick last winter. I considered that a real pity, because -- among other things -- I am told the area around Cape Town is lovely, and it would have been great fun to see the process of shooting a movie in action.
|18. What do you think of the movie script, which contains major changes from the original story?
It's been awhile since I last read the script, and it went through so many changes that at the moment I am really not certain what the final form of the script even is.
However, I've liked a lot of what I have seen, and in general, what I like most is that Studio Hamburg has seemed determined to arrive at the best possible compromise between a script which reflects the era during which the book was written, and one which reflects the era in which the movie will be released.
|19. What do you think about the German approach which has kept the Three Investigators series alive since 1994?
I am inclined to believe that a large part of what has kept the Three Investigators series alive in Germany must be the quality of the writing, because although the only German writer I have corresponded with personally is André Marx, I have heard from a lot of sources that not only André, but a number of the other German writers have been doing excellent work on behalf of the Three Investigators series for a long time now.
However, I would hazard the guess that even good writing might have failed to keep the series alive in Germany had it not been joined by the German love of radio stories. Clearly, in the final analysis, BMG's phenomenal success with Three Investigators cassettes and CD's -- a success which began to be evident not in 1994, but in the late 1970's -- must derive, at least in part, from a cultural difference between Germany and the United States, one which has allowed Germans to continue to enjoy listening to audio products that seem to have a lot in common with the old-time American radio plays through which my father had his first major success as a writer.
For that reason, I am sure that the German fans would have been very much to my father's taste.
In fact, I think the audience for Three Investigators radio plays would have tickled him pink.
|20. The German Three Investigators series has a corporate design and a very unique type of illustrations (created by artist Aiga Rasch) that distinguishes it enormously from the other foreign illustrations. How do you like the design of the German hard-covered books?
I was extremely impressed with the designs for the covers of the German hardcover books from the first time I ever saw them. The shiny black background of the covers is sophisticated and elegant, and the brightly colored renderings placed against that black background are not only eye-catching but truly beautiful.
I also really like the quality of the paper, the end papers, and the boards.
In fact, the only thing I don't like is the fact that the colors of the question marks are red, white, and blue. In my father's original novels, and, (as far as I know,) in all of the American-original books, the colors were white for Jupiter, blue for Pete and green for Bob.
I mean, although the boys are, in fact, American, they are certainly not the kind who would go around promoting the colors of the American flag.
Also, while I'm on the subject, I'd like to say that I think that Sony BMG's new logo, ("Die Dr3i") is really terrific. It cleverly uses the long-standing American abbreviation for the series ("T3I" for "The Three Investigators") by substituting a "3" for the "e" in "drei," but the typography used also makes the "3" look like the mirror image of "e" in "die." As a writer, I am always impressed when an artist or designer working with a book truly finds a way to capture the spirit of the book, and in this case, the mirror image motif is very much in keeping with the spirit of The Three Investigators series as a whole.
Also, mirrors, as objects, feature in the story lines of at least three of my father's own Three Investigators novels.
So, anyway, I highly applaud the artist who designed the new Sony BMG logo, and I hope that the fans do, also.
|21. Do you know the plots of the German Three Investigators books? Are you familiar with the development of this series which has been taking place for 12 years now? In other words, do you read English translations for your own purpose?
Unfortunately, my high school German was not good enough even when I was in high school for me to be able to pick up a book written in German and make much sense of it. I'm sorry about that, because I would love to read some of the German novels.
As for the plots of those novels, the license Random House issued to Kosmos in 1994 required that Kosmos submit plot outlines of all German-language original books to Random House for approval. However, no plot outlines were ever submitted by Kosmos, and I therefore have never been able to get any real sense of what was actually going on with the sub-series.
|22. When, in 1999, the new series "Die drei ??? Kids" -- based on The Three Investigators, however, planned as the opposite of the Crimebusters -- was announced, many fans here in Germany were not in favor of it and skeptical thoughts were found among the fan community. In the meantime this series has become established and a wide range of fans do like it, especially among the actual target group. What was your first impression of such a sub-series concept?
Once again, I am hampered in making a personal judgment about the books, because I haven't read them.
I would, however, say that -- at least in theory -- I can certainly imagine a Three Investigators sub-series in which the boys are fairly young children, and I would actually strongly support a good sub-series aimed at a younger age group, as long as the series attempted to demonstrate the principles of rational investigative thinking to young children.
|23. In 1999 Kosmos registered the trademark "Die drei ???" for its own purposes. Was the German publishing house allowed to do such move? As far as we know, in 2004 there were negotiations between Kosmos and Random House, and at the same time there were also negotiations between Kosmos and you. We are told that the former ended successfully in agreement, whereas this was not the case between you and Kosmos. From your point of view, could you describe the course of these negotiations?
Actually, by 2004, I was no longer negotiating with Kosmos personally, because when my brother and I granted Studio Hamburg its performance rights license in August of 2003, we also granted Studio Hamburg the right to negotiate with both BMG and Kosmos on our behalf.
Consequently, after the Studio Hamburg agreement was signed, all negotiations with both Kosmos and BMG were handled by Studio Hamburg's outside counsel, Harro von Have. Mr. von Have acted as attorney to me and my brother until June of 2004, when he apparently decided that he had developed a conflict of interest.
As for my personal negotiations with Kosmos, the first time I ever communicated with Kosmos personally was in the autumn of 1998.
As I mentioned in my answer to question # 11, the 1991 Random House/Arthur contract did not grant Random House either electronic rights or merchandising rights, and therefore, when Random House's then-attorney, Susan Danziger, was approached by Kosmos in the summer of 1998 -- at a time when Kosmos apparently had decided it wanted to start to publish, produce and sell Three Investigators CD-ROM's and merchandising -- Susan very properly informed Kosmos that Random House did not own the underlying rights in the Three Investigators series, that my brother and I owned those rights, and that Kosmos would need to acquire electronic rights and merchandising rights from the owners of the character rights in The Three Investigators series.
Claudia Schuller, an editor at Kosmos, therefore wrote my then-attorney David Goldberg a letter telling him that Kosmos had been informed by the legal department at Random House that my brother and I owned the character rights in the Three Investigators series, and that Kosmos would like to enter into negotiations regarding licenses for CD-ROMs and merchandising.
As it happened, when Bertelsmann bought Random House shortly afterwards, David Goldberg developed a conflict of interest, and I therefore personally took over communications with Kosmos for the next five months.
During those months, I received a letter from Andrea Ahlers at Kosmos, who confirmed, in writing, that Random House had told Kosmos that my brother and I owned the character rights for the Three Investigators series.
In early November, I wrote back to Ms. Ahlers confirming that this was correct information.
In February, I wrote another personal letter to Andrea Ahlers, but in the spring of 1999, I also decided that I should find a lawyer who could replace David Goldberg.
I subsequently hired a well-known American copyright attorney, Alan Hartnick, who ended up writing several letters to Kosmos asking for a concrete proposal regarding a license for merchandising and CD-ROMs.
His last 1999 letter to Kosmos was dated October 22, and when he never received an answer, he and I both assumed that Kosmos had simply lost interest in the matter.
We never followed up with further inquiries, so I was taken by surprise when I learned (in May or June of 2002) that Kosmos had gone ahead with its plan to publish Three Investigators merchandising products and Three Investigators CD-ROMs without first acquiring a license from me and my brother.
By the time I learned this, I was once again in negotiations with Kosmos, because after the rights in The Three Investigators series reverted from Random House to me and my brother in June of 2002, I immediately contacted Kosmos to inform its management of the rights transfer.
I naturally wanted to put into action my plan to try to launch a new English-language series, but I had no desire whatever to try to alter the nature of the German sub-series, and I therefore hoped that by the end of 2002 or early in 2003, my brother and I could come to simple "continuity" agreements with both BMG and Kosmos.
Immediately after the underlying rights in The Three Investigators series reverted to me and my brother, I also went looking for an agent with experience making deals with German companies.
Amazingly enough, I found one through Random House itself.
By coincidence, a woman named Jeanette Lundgren, (who I had gotten to know when she had worked in the Random House rights department,) decided to leave Random House and set up her own agency at almost exactly the same moment that the rights in The Three Investigators series reverted, and when I learned what had happened, I called Jeanette and asked her if she would represent the German rights in the series.
I felt that she would be in an excellent position to help conduct negotiations with both BMG and Kosmos, because when she had worked for Random House, she had had personal dealings with both companies, and when Jeanette agreed to represent The Three Investigators series, I wrote to Kosmos, informing the editors about the reversion, and making it clear that it was my intention to regrant to Kosmos the same rights it had previously held through Random House, and on the same terms.
Moreover, when I accidentally discovered, (after the reversion,) that Kosmos had been selling Three Investigators electronic products and other merchandising products without any license for at least two or three years by then, I told Jeanette to simply offer to grant Kosmos whatever licenses would render legal the products Kosmos was currently publishing without any legal basis.
I did this because when I learned about Kosmos's unlicensed publications, I initially assumed that Random House itself must have somehow contributed to the problem.
By that time, Susan Danziger had left the legal department at Random House, and although Susan had been an experienced, efficient and competent attorney, she had been replaced by a young and inexperienced attorney who, by that time, had already made a number of serious errors in dealing with The Three Investigators series.
As for Jeanette, she, too, initially believed (on the basis of her own experience working at Random House) that it was entirely possible that the reason why Alan Hartnick had never heard back from Kosmos regarding the electronic and merchandising licenses was because after Susan had informed Kosmos that Random House did not control the merchandising or CD-ROM rights, someone else at Random House might well have confused the issue by (wrongly) informing Kosmos that the opposite was true.
However, during the late summer of 2002 -- at a time when both Jeanette and I believed we were close to a final agreement with Kosmos -- Jeanette received a letter from Kosmos which stated that in 1999 Kosmos had applied for and been granted a registered German trademark containing the three question marks created by my father.
The letter claimed that, as a consequence of this registration, Kosmos now owned all rights to use three question marks on any Three Investigators books or other products sold in Germany.
The letter also implied that Kosmos itself intended to decide what proportion of its revenues derived from its registration of the trademark, and what proportion derived from the underlying intellectual property.
It was at that point that I began to fear that the unlicensed publication of Three Investigators merchandising and electronic products had not been an innocent mistake, after all, because, (by that time,) I had finally received a copy of the 1994 Random House/Kosmos agreement, and it was clear from reading the agreement that by registering "Die drei ???" as a trademark, Kosmos had violated the terms of its license from Random House. (The license had also reserved from Kosmos rights such as the right to publish CD-ROMs or merchandising.)
Moreover, (from what Jeanette could learn from Random House,) not only had the registration of the German trademark been undertaken without the consent or knowledge of Random House and/or of me and my brother, it had also been undertaken without the consent or knowledge of Kosmos's longtime partner, BMG.
And because the issue of Kosmos' 1999 trademark registration of the three question marks is so fundamental to what is going on in Germany, I think I should mention to your readers that the use of the symbol "???" to promote and advertise The Three Investigators series is not in any way unique to Germany.
On the contrary, the symbol "???" has been used by every single one of Random House's foreign sublicensees to promote and advertise The Three Investigators series ever since the series was created in the 1960's. It has also been used by Random House.
In fact, I myself am the owner of a registered United States trademark depicting the symbol ??? ®, and when the certificate for the mark was issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the office formally acknowledged that the mark ??? ® had first been used in the United States in the year 1964 -- which is to say four years before Kosmos's predecessor, Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung Stuttgart, first included the symbol "???" as part of the German title of one of my father's books.
The bottom line here is that after the reversion of the character rights in The Three Investigators series from Random House to me and my brother, Sony BMG was scrupulous in attempting to obey not just the letter but the spirit of all relevant international copyright and trademark conventions, but Kosmos took quite a different approach to the fact that all of the underlying rights in The Three Investigators series had just reverted from a large and powerful corporation (and one with a big presence in Germany) to two individuals who lived on the far side of the Atlantic.
That is to say, between June of 2002 and June of 2004, Kosmos was given every possible opportunity to come to an agreement with me and my brother which would have granted Kosmos a new seven-year license on either equivalent or better terms than the terms Kosmos had been granted by Random House.
In fact, in February of 2003 Jeanette Lundgren sent Kosmos a copy of the contract she had negotiated. She wrote the contract at Kosmos's request, and had every reason to think that Kosmos had agreed to all of its terms. For that reason, I signed the contract before Jeanette sent it to Germany.
However, when Kosmos received the contract, Kosmos neither countersigned it nor returned it, and although I am told that it wasn't until 2005 that Kosmos actually instructed its printers to delete the line "Based on characters created by Robert Arthur" from the German-language-original Three Investigators novels, by the spring of 2003, Kosmos must have already had the idea in mind, since, as I recall, it was in March or April of 2003 that Jeanette was told by Kosmos's management that the names "Justus Jonas" and "Peter Shaw" were different from the names "Jupiter Jones", and "Pete Crenshaw" and that, because of this name change, the German-language-original Three Investigators books really had never had any fundamental relationship with the juvenile mystery book series created by my father.
It was also in March or April of 2003 that I realized that it had probably not been a coincidence that the 1998-1999 correspondence with Kosmos regarding a license for CD-ROMs and other Three Investigators merchandising products had stopped abruptly during the months when Kosmos was in the process of registering "Die drei ???" in the German trademark office.
By that time, it seemed to me a reasonable assumption that Kosmos had already believed, (in 1999,) that any Three Investigators rights which were controlled by me and my brother, (rather than by Random House,) were extremely vulnerable, and that Kosmos's registration of a German trademark containing the three question marks had been the first step in what Kosmos might already, (by 1999,) have believed would be a process culminating in Kosmos simply walking away with the entire series.
This seemed an even more reasonable assumption when Jeanette and I learned, (in late April of 2003,) that after Kosmos had refused to sign the contract Jeanette had negotiated, and after Kosmos had also told Jeanette that Justus Jonas and Jupiter Jones were two different people, Kosmos had also made its first (though not its last) attempt to persuade the relevant member of the Random House legal department that Random House should sell the text of all of the non-Arthur-authored American-original Three Investigators books to Kosmos.
On that occasion, Jeanette and I heard about the plan in time to stop it. I then made it clear to both Random House and Kosmos that if Random House should ever move forward with any plan to sell the text of the American-original Three Investigators books to a company Random House was already quite aware had been illegally selling Three Investigators electronic products and merchandising for some years, my brother and I would not subsequently grant Kosmos any exploitation rights in the books.
I made it clear that I considered it to be Random House's moral obligation to make certain that Dennis Lynds, Mary Carey, and the other writers who had actually written the books which the Random House legal department was apparently ready to treat like any other property which might be bought and sold on the open market, were protected by Random House, the company which had hired them.
However, given what later happened, it seems reasonable to assume that Kosmos, at least, did not believe that I meant what I said. It also seems reasonable to assume that when (in May of 2003) Kosmos secretly registered an EU trademark containing nothing more or less than the three question marks created by my father, it was because, by that time, Kosmos had had plenty of time to observe that the Random House attorney who remained in charge of the Three Investigators series was entirely out of her depth when dealing with Kosmos, and also seemed to have no interest whatever in making sure that Random House complied with its contractual obligation to protect the rights my brother and I had granted to Random House in 1991 from the wrongful actions of its own sublicensees. (That obligation still existed even after the reversion.)
Altogether, it seems reasonable to assume that Kosmos had concluded by May of 2003 -- the month during which Kosmos filed an application for EU protection of the three question marks as stand-alone marks -- that two individuals like me and my brother were not in an ideal position to stop Kosmos from simply walking away with the Three Investigators series unless we were able to get the cooperation of a competent and qualified attorney working in the legal department of Random House itself.
Unfortunately, during the last two or three years, there had been several major corporate restructurings at Random House, and one of them had resulted in drastic cuts in the staff of the legal department.
Jeanette Lundgren told me that before she left Random House she had been able to see the old-fashioned concept of teamwork replaced, in the new Random House legal department, with a bare-bones (and apparently cost-cutting) strategy which assumed that anyone with a law degree should be able to do any legal job which might come his or her way.
From what Jeanette told me, the old system, (whereby young and inexperienced attorneys were mentored by older and wiser ones,) had given way to a system in which there was absolutely no oversight of the work which might (or might not) be done by any given attorney.
Since the corporate restructuring had also given members of the legal department far more power over the members of other departments than they had ever had in the past, if a writer happened to find himself or herself dealing with an attorney who lacked knowledge, judgment, and/or wisdom, there was really no remedy available, short of a lawsuit against Random House.
Anyway, since, by that time, I knew for a certainty that I would be getting no help of any kind from any member of the Random House legal department in disentangling what was rapidly becoming an enormous legal problem -- and one which would almost certainly become bigger the longer Random House failed to enforce the terms of its own sub-licenses -- I decided, in April of 2003, that the matter needed to be handled by a German attorney, and a German company.
Jeanette Lundgren therefore graciously stepped aside as the German agent for The Three Investigators series, and Studio Hamburg and I incorporated language into our contract which dealt with the growing threat posed by Kosmos's activities vis a vis The Three Investigators series.
By that time, although Studio Hamburg had not yet learned that in May of 2003, Kosmos had applied for EU protection of a trademark consisting of three question marks, Studio Hamburg had learned that Kosmos had applied in Germany to use the Kosmos-registered trademark "Die drei ???" for film and television rights, as well as for electronic and merchandising rights.
In other words, by May of 2003, both Studio Hamburg and I were extremely aware of the magnitude of the trademark problem, and since, by that time, I myself also had a pretty good idea of the nature of Kosmos's endgame, I was happy to allow Studio Hamburg to take on the task of reining in Kosmos.
For that reason, the final version of the Studio Hamburg/Arthur Agreement contained a Power of Attorney from me and my brother to Studio Hamburg. The Agreement was signed in August and became legally binding in November -- at which time Studio Hamburg's outside counsel, Harro von Have, took over all dealings with Kosmos, acting as attorney to me and my brother.
Unfortunately, sometime in the spring of 2004, both Mr. von Have and Ronald Kruschak were informed by Kosmos that, in May of 2003, Kosmos had applied for EU protection of a trademark consisting of three question marks.
They were further informed that unless they agreed to enter into a contract with Kosmos through which they agreed to pay Kosmos for any use of either "Die drei ???" or the three question marks as stand-alone marks in advertising the movie version of The Secret of Skeleton Island, Kosmos would go to court to try and prevent Studio Hamburg from releasing the movie.
|24. Kosmos claims to have acquired from Random House all rights on The Three Investigators episodes which were not written by your father. Consequently, Kosmos claims to have also the right to publish its own episodes. To what degree does this influence the current legal dispute about the rights? Sony BMG too claims to have the rights to publish Three Investigators episodes and additionally claims to be the only party that is allowed to do so. What is Sony BMG's right based on?
Kosmos most certainly did not acquire from Random House all rights to the Three Investigators novels which were not written by my father, and Kosmos most certainly does not have any right to publish its own Three Investigators stories.
In fact, Kosmos itself no longer has any rights of any kind in The Three Investigators series, although certain Kosmos sub-licenses which were signed before December of 2004 may still, in certain instances, be valid until they expire.
However, in order to answer your questions properly, I have to go back to June of 2004, when Harro von Have told me that he was resigning his commission as attorney-in-fact to me and my brother.
When he told me this I was, quite frankly, astonished, because the Power of Attorney my brother and I had given Studio Hamburg had been intended to last for decades, and the grant of worldwide performance rights had been made in conjunction with a grant of agency which not only permitted Studio Hamburg to act on behalf of me and my brother in reining in Kosmos's Three Investigators-related activities, but required that it do so.
However, since it was clear to me by June of 2004 that neither Studio Hamburg nor its outside counsel seemed able to find an effective solution to the problems posed by Kosmos, when Mr. von Have informed me that he could no longer represent my interests, or my brother's interests, with Kosmos, I simply asked Mr. von Have to write one last letter to Kosmos on my behalf.
In that letter, Mr. von Have informed Kosmos that although I was still ready to negotiate an agreement which would give either Sony BMG or some other company the authority to sub-license any and all appropriate rights to Kosmos, I would no longer risk signing a contract with a company which engaged in the kind of behavior in which Kosmos had been engaging.
After Mr. von Have's letter went to Kosmos, I myself contacted the Random House royalty department -- with which I had always had a good relationship -- and suggested that an experienced member of the royalty department work with me to solve the Kosmos-related problems, which, by that time, seemed to be growing larger with every passing week.
I suggested that since Random House and BMG were (at the time) both wholly owned by Bertelsmann, it might be to Bertelsmann's advantage if Random House would help to facilitate a deal whereby (among other things) Sony BMG took over the administration of Kosmos's Three Investigators licenses.
Unfortunately, the royalty department was not given the authority to act on this suggestion, and after I had turned my attention to the matter of an offer to Sony BMG, Kosmos secretly approached the Random House attorney who had been left in sole charge of The Three Investigators series for almost three years now, and suggested that Random House assign the text of both the American-original and the German-original derivative Three Investigators novels to Kosmos.
Since Random House, at the time, owned the texts of all the derivative novels (both American and German), it could have assigned the texts of those novels to me and my brother, (who had, after all, granted Random House its current rights in The Three Investigators series to begin with, and who also owned the character rights in the novels, and therefore could have arranged for their publication,) or to Sony BMG, (a sister company of Random House, and a company to which my brother and I were fully prepared to grant all relevant rights,) or even to the writers who had actually written the books to begin with, and who most people would therefore have considered to be interested parties. (Both the American writers and the German writers could have been assigned the ownership of the text of their own books.)
Instead, incredibly, the very same Random House attorney who had lost Random House the Three Investigators series to begin with, (by failing to respond to my demand letter within the sixty day time frame,) was allowed to prepare documents whereby, in exchange for Kosmos agreeing to permit Random House to terminate all of its existing licenses, (including its license to create new Three Investigators books,) and also in exchange for Kosmos giving Random House a General Release, and indemnification in the amount of $750,000, Random House would assign the ownership of the text of all of the existing German-language-original derivative Three Investigators books to Kosmos -- a sublicensee which Random House should actually have been suing, by that time, for its flagrant breaches of contract in registering "Die drei ???" and "???" as trademarks.
Even more incredibly, she was also allowed to prepare documents by which Random House would -- for the total sum of $25,000 -- sell the text of almost fifty American-original Three Investigators books to a publisher the Random House legal department was completely aware was already committing copyright infringement in matters having to do with The Three Investigators series.
Finally -- and maybe most incredibly of all -- the documents signed by Random House and Kosmos in December of 2004 contained a brand-new legal concept in which Random House was somehow able to "retroactively" terminate Kosmos's license to create new Three Investigators books all the way back to the date of June 30, 2002.
I presume that this supposed "retroactive" termination was an attempt on the part of the Random House legal department to create an alternate reality in which Random House had somehow already terminated Kosmos's license to create new books at the moment when Kosmos filed the EU trademark application consisting of three question marks, (i.e. by May of 2003,) and in which Random House had therefore somehow never had any legal responsibility to sue Kosmos for its breach of contract in filing that application, since -- in this scenario -- the (factual) breach of contract would have taken place nine months after the (fictional) termination of Kosmos's license.
However, in order for this alternate reality to assume even the slightest substance, the Random House legal department also decided it would need to tell the royalty department to send back to Kosmos the royalty money which Kosmos had already paid Random House for new German-original Three Investigators books which had been published between June 30, 2002 and December of 2004.
I believe that some of that royalty money was owed to the Hitchcock estate, while some of it was owed to me and my brother. Most of it, however, belonged to Random House itself. Moreover, most of it had been generated by sales of audio products, and therefore had originally been paid to Kosmos by Sony BMG.
The money was not, however, "returned" to Sony BMG. It was "returned" to Kosmos, and while someone else might believe that the (supposedly) retroactive termination of Kosmos's license to create new Three Investigators books was the single most extraordinary thing the Random House legal department did in December of 2004, what was most extraordinary to me was that the legal department of such an old and established publishing company should exhibit such a startling contempt for the work of its own writers.
The fact is, by December of 2004, it must have been clear to everyone who worked in the Random House legal department that Kosmos had no intention of ever engaging in good faith negotiations with me and my brother.
In fact, by December of 2004, no one in the Random House legal department could have been in any doubt whatever that although the transfer of the texts of the derivative T3I works from Random House to Kosmos did not (and could not) include any transfer or assignment of either character rights in The Three Investigators series, or exploitation rights in the derivative works, (since my brother and I had been the sole owners of both of these rights ever since the reversion,) once Kosmos had secured a document from Random House which referred in any way at all to a transfer of the "ownership" of the derivative works, Kosmos would do exactly what it has done -- i.e. misrepresent the meaning of the words on the document.
As for the rights of Dennis Lynds, Mary Carey, and the other writers who had actually written the American novels which the Random House legal department had just sold down the river, who did the legal department imagine was going to pay them? Kosmos?
I should probably clarify that not only did my brother and I know nothing about the 2004 Random House/Kosmos agreement until two weeks after it had been signed, Sony BMG, did not know about it either.
In fact, Studio Hamburg, Sony BMG, and my brother and I all learned about the agreement at the same time, (in January of 2005,) and when we came to understand that Kosmos had actively cooperated with the termination, by Random House, of every one of Kosmos' remaining Three Investigators licenses -- including its license to continue to create new German-language-original books -- simply so that it could acquire the purely technical ownership of the texts of a great many books it would have no legal right to publish, at first neither Sony BMG nor I could understand what on earth either Random House or Kosmos had been thinking.
One thing, however, was certain. Kosmos had obviously chosen not to believe that I meant what I said when I told both Kosmos and Random House, (in April of 2003,) that if Random House transferred the text of the American T3I novels to Kosmos, my brother and I would not subsequently grant Kosmos exploitation rights in those novels, because I had been given no reason to believe that Kosmos would ever pay royalties to the American writers.
By the way, I myself would not characterize the December 2004 Random House/Kosmos agreement as the conclusion of a "successful negotiation" from the point of view of either Random House or Kosmos, because even though the Random House legal department did manage to get Kosmos to agree to reimburse Random House for a small percentage of the costs of any future lawsuit which Random House might have to defend as a result of the actions the Random House legal department had just taken vis a vis Kosmos, in the United States (and in the event of an actual lawsuit) $750,000 would probably not even pay the attorney's fees for a competent outside counsel.
As for Kosmos, what it gained from the agreement was all on the negative side of the ledger, because even though Kosmos is now apparently claiming that when it acquired the ownership of the text of the existing derivative works from Random House, it acquired the right to publish those works, that is most emphatically not the case.
What is the case is that although there may still be legal Three Investigators products being published in Germany under sub-licenses issued by Kosmos prior to December of 2004, every single Three Investigators book or other product which Kosmos itself has published (or continued to publish) since January of 2005 has been published illegally.
Of course, it seems reasonable to assume that when Kosmos permitted Random House to terminate all of its remaining Three Investigators licenses -- including its license to continue to create new German-language-original books -- in exchange for the ownership of the texts of a good many books it would have no legal right to publish unless it acquired that right either from me and my brother or from a Three Investigators sublicensee to which we had granted appropriate authority, Kosmos must have been under the false impression that Kosmos's unauthorized registrations of EU and German trademarks containing the symbol "???" would allow Kosmos to control all future exploitation of Three Investigators books, movies, television programs, and other products, not only in Germany, but throughout the world.
This is a particularly reasonable assumption because, by December of 2004, Studio Hamburg's outside counsel, Harro von Have, had apparently recommended to his client that Studio Hamburg sign a trademark agreement with Kosmos in which Studio Hamburg agreed to pay Kosmos for the use of either "Die drei ???" or three question marks in connection with advertisements of any Three Investigators movies or television programs made by Studio Hamburg.
That agreement was signed in January of 2005, and, shortly after its signing, a German attorney who was doing some work for me at the time received a brief note from Kosmos indicating that Kosmos would now be willing to reenter negotiations with me and my brother.
The Kosmos letter made reference to the German and EU trademarks in such a way that it was clear that Kosmos did, in fact, believe that even though Kosmos did not have a single legal license left in the Three Investigators series, its formal ownership of the registrations of the German and EU ??? trademarks had put Kosmos in the position to dictate to me and my brother all of the terms and conditions of all future development of the series worldwide.
When that letter was sent to my then-German-attorney it was obvious that (as was also the case with my statements to Kosmos regarding the transfer of the American books) someone at Kosmos had chosen not to believe that I meant what I said when I told Mr. von Have to tell Kosmos in June of 2004 that Kosmos's past behavior had rendered it impossible for me to ever again consider entering into a direct contractual relationship with Kosmos.
My position regarding a contract with Kosmos was therefore reiterated by my then-attorney in January of 2005, when he wrote to Kosmos saying that I was currently negotiating a comprehensive agreement with Sony BMG which -- when signed by me and my brother and Sony BMG -- would permit Kosmos to acquire any and all appropriate sub-licenses from its long-term partner, Sony BMG.
Since Kosmos had originally been a sublicensee of Random House, and since, as it happened, Sony BMG was a sister company to Random House, it seemed to me, (even as late as January of 2005,) that Kosmos could have no rational reason for refusing to structure an agreement in the manner I suggested.
One might speculate almost endlessly as to why Kosmos decided instead to continue down the path it had started down in 1999, when it decided to register "Die drei ???" as a trademark and, at one and the same time, decided to publish Three Investigators CD-ROMs and merchandising products for which it had never acquired a license.
However, although I can understand why a company like Kosmos might believe that two individuals like me and my brother were not in an ideal position to prevent any company from simply walking away with the Three Investigators series, why Kosmos still believed it would be able to do get away with that even after my brother and I had assigned to Sony BMG the exclusive worldwide right to commission new German-language-original Three Investigators stories, (to be published in the German language in either print or audio form,) and had also assigned to Sony BMG all of our interests in all German-language sound recordings, hardcover books, paperback books, stage plays, and video recordings of stage plays of all of the existing derivative works, is a question I simply have no answer for.
|25. Which rights does Random House still own nowadays? What was the legal rights situation before 2006, and what is the situation today?
After the date on which the reversion of the series from Random House to me and my brother became final, Random House was legally barred from ever again granting any new licenses in the series.
Consequently, as of June 30, 2002, Random House lost all rights in the Three Investigators series except for the right to continue to collect revenues for licenses it had granted prior to the reversion, until such time as those licenses expired.
For example, before the reversion, Random House granted a license to a Greek publisher, and since that particular license does not expire until 2008, Random House will have the right to collect revenues from the Greek publisher until 2008.
The same is true with a few other foreign licenses, including, as it happens, Sony BMG's license to publish the American-original Three Investigators books in audio form. That license will not expire until the summer of 2008.
As for your question about the year 2006, as I said at the end of my answer to your last question, on January 15, 2006, my brother and I assigned to Sony BMG all of our interests in all German-language sound recordings, hardcover books, paperback books, stage plays, and video recordings of stage plays of all of the existing derivative works.
This assignment is in perpetuity.
We also assigned to Sony BMG the exclusive worldwide right to commission new German-language-original Three Investigators stories to be published in the German language in either print or audio form.
We also granted Sony BMG a non-exclusive merchandising license, and a limited but exclusive German-language license in both the audio and the print versions of my father's novels.
Under the circumstances, it is probably important for me to explain that the January 15, 2006 agreement gives Sony BMG every right to sub-license to Kosmos the print publication rights of any or all of the existing (or future,) derivative works, as well as the right to sub-license the print publication rights of my father's ten books, subject only to the condition that Kosmos give up the Three Investigators trademarks it obtained without our knowledge and consent.
Unfortunately, Sony BMG has had no more luck than anyone else who has tried, and failed, to get Kosmos to see reason.
Sony BMG has therefore been forced to do what Random House would not -- take Kosmos to court for both copyright and trademark infringement.
As you know, Sony BMG has also just published its first Three Investigators stories, in audio form, under the newly created logo, "Die Dr3i."
As I have already mentioned, I very much like the new logo.
Nonetheless, an attentive reader of this interview will, by this time, have concluded that although I think the new logo developed by BMG is terrific on its own terms, the reason Sony BMG decided to move forward with the logo last autumn, (rather than in a year or two,) was because, (absent an out-of-court settlement with Kosmos,) it will take a court order for the German trademark office to expunge Kosmos' Three Investigators trademark registrations, and as long as the registration is still on the books in Germany, Kosmos is in a position to go to German court to attempt to obtain an injunction against any other company which proposes to publish or distribute a book, or movie, or anything else which bears three question marks on its packaging.
In other words, even though Sony BMG has now acquired all of the German-language exploitation rights in the Three Investigators series which were, at one time, licensed to Kosmos; even though Sony BMG has also acquired many German exploitation rights which were never licensed to Kosmos in the first place; even though every single Three Investigators book or other product which Kosmos currently has on the German market is being published without the benefit of a license of any kind; and even though I myself own Three Investigators trademarks not only in the United States and the United Kingdom, but also in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, since Kosmos is still, at the current time, the technical owner (as opposed to the legitimate owner) of both German and EU trademarks containing three question marks, both Studio Hamburg and Sony BMG have had to proceed with caution concerning the matter of the trademarks until Sony BMG's infringement litigation has been concluded.
|26. Are you planning to reprint the Three Investigators series in the USA when the movie will be out in the theaters? If yes, did Alfred Hitchcock drop out from the series for good?
I am just beginning the process of trying to find a new American publisher for my father's books, and I truthfully don't know whether it will be possible to find such a publisher before the first movie is released.
I can, however, say for certain that Alfred Hitchcock will not be included in any future development of the series in America or anywhere else in the world.
|27. Which rights do you and your brother own today? Last autumn rumors were afloat that you are not Robert Arthur's true heirs, and then, just a few weeks ago, Kosmos released a statement to the German press which claimed that the University of Michigan was the true owner of the rights in The Three Investigators series. Any comments?
In the time which has passed since all rights in, to, and deriving from my father's novels reverted from Random House to me and my brother, we have only granted two licenses -- one to Sony BMG and one to Studio Hamburg -- and since the Studio Hamburg license did not grant novelization rights, electronic game rights, animated film and television rights, comic book rights, general merchandising rights, or a number of other rights which are commonly granted to companies which acquire live-action film and television rights, my brother and I still control all of the above rights in The Three Investigators series.
We also still control all Internet game rights and all theme park rights, as well as all non-German-language print and audio publication rights in all of my father's books and in all existing (and future) derivative works.
In addition, we also still control all stage play rights, ancillary DVD rights, and other theatrical performance rights in all of my father's books and in all existing (and future) derivative works in countries other than the countries of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and of course, we also still own and control all rights to use the characters, setting, and other trademarked and/or copyrighted elements of The Three investigators series in any new Three Investigators stories which may be created, in future, in any language other than the German language.
However, our agreement with Sony BMG specifically contemplates that, at some point in the future, my brother and I may grant Sony BMG translation rights and/or English-language rights in some or all of the existing (or future) derivative Three Investigators novels. We may also grant Sony BMG German-language novelization rights in Studio Hamburg screenplays or teleplays.
In fact, I am happy to say that after what can only be called rather eye-opening experiences with both Random House and Kosmos, I truly believe that in the Three Investigators team at Sony BMG Germany, The Three Investigators series has finally found a long-term partner capable of simultaneously appreciating what the series means to its fans, and also treating editors, writers, and other artists fairly.
As for any rumors that may have been floating around Germany last autumn that my brother and I are not the owners of the underlying rights in the Three Investigators series, the only possible source for such rumors would have been Kosmos.
No doubt it was because Kosmos could see that rumors alone were not going to get it out of the pickle it had gotten itself into that Kosmos decided to try to really confuse the German fans of The Three Investigators series by releasing, to the German press, a clause from my father's will -- a clause which long ago ceased to have any legal significance in regards to The Three Investigators series, but which (taken completely out of the context of all relevant laws and all past events,) certainly would confuse almost anyone, especially anyone who has never before had reason to consider that many legal documents which appear, at first glance, to have some kind of validity have actually been rendered invalid by documents which postdate them -- sometimes documents filed with the very same government offices which filed the originals.
Since I don't read German, I have not been able to read the pure text of either the court papers which Kosmos filed in Duesseldorf, at the last possible moment before the case was to come to trial, or the text of the statement Kosmos recently released to the German press.
However, I have been told that the gist of the statement was that Kosmos had somehow just recently discovered that the University of Michigan was actually the "true owner" of the copyrights in The Three Investigators series.
As I have explained, in the first place, the copyrights were never owned by Michigan, anyway, but were owned first by Random House and then by me and my brother. All that Michigan ever owned was the right to receive royalties, and that right expired when the old contracts expired.
Moreover, in 1992, (when my brother and I became the legal owners of the copyrights of the original two books in the Three Investigators series, and therefore also became the legal owners of the character rights) Random House immediately stopped paying the Regents of the University all royalties which were being generated by the non-Arthur-authored American Three Investigators books, and, (over the course of the years between 1992 and 1997,) also stopped paying Michigan revenues on sales of my father's own novels.
In other words, during the period between 1992 and 1997, Random House's payments to the Regents of the University of Michigan gradually lessened and than finally ceased completely, because as each of my father's novels moved into its second copyright term, each 1960's-era contract which had been signed by my father and Random House simply expired.
In the second place, the license by which Random House granted Kosmos the right to create derivative German-language-original Three Investigators novels was issued by Random House in 1994 -- three entire years after Random House signed the 1991 contract with me and my brother.
In other words, when Kosmos acquired its derivative license from Random House in 1994, my brother and I were already the sole legal owners of the character rights in the Three Investigators series, and although Random House was Kosmos' contracting partner in the 1994 agreement, Random House would never have been able to grant Kosmos the right to create derivative T3I works had Random House not previously acquired that right from me and my brother.
More specifically, although the 1991 Random House/Arthur contract did not give me and my brother the right to review and approve sub-licenses which might be issued by Random House under and through its authority, (which was why I did not even know about the existence of the Kosmos sub-license until several years after Random House signed it) it is still the case that the rights Random House granted to Kosmos in 1994 were rights Random House had previously acquired from me and my brother, and from no one else.
Kosmos, of course, is well aware of that.
For all these reasons, when I learned about Kosmos's latest outrage, the thing I found most extraordinary about it was that Kosmos actually seems to believe that it can (somehow) suppress the true facts of this matter through simply releasing, to the German press, a two page statement which is simultaneously melodramatic, bombastic, and absurd, when I have in my possession documents relating to the legal history of The Three Investigators series which, at this point, seem, (to me, at least!) to be almost as big as the legal files in Charles Dickens's great novel Bleak House.
In truth, the only conceivable reason why Kosmos can have decided to file my father's will with the German court just weeks before the long-delayed court case was to try to get even more time than Kosmos has already had in which to distort the facts of this matter to the German public. Unfortunately, it worked. It will now apparently be seven entire months before Sony BMG can prove the full facts of this case in German court.
However, there is no need for anyone in Germany to wait eight months to visit the same archives at the Library of Congress in which Walter Wright Jr. filed my father's will in 1973, because anyone who wants to visit the United States Copyright Office at the Library of Congress can click on the link included in this interview to find that my brother and I are indeed the owners of the copyrights of my father's Three Investigators books.
Once your readers have linked to http://www.copyright.gov, they will find a section labeled "Search Records" and in that section a link to "Registrations and Documents." They will arrive at a page which gives them the option of clicking on a box labeled "Books, Music, etc."
They should open the page it links to, and then, (when offered a method of searching,) should choose the option to search by registration number. In the search box, they should enter the number RE-573-393, and then hit the Search button.
This will take them to the page that covers the 1992 renewal registration for The Secret of Terror Castle . Anyone interested in researching the pages governing my father's other books will find them under registration numbers RE-573-394, RE-626-401, RE-626-402, RE-723-419, RE-723-420, RE-743-034, RE-703-338, RE-703-340. In each case, the listed claimants are me and my brother. Our full names are properly listed as Elizabeth Ann Arthur and Robert Andrew Arthur and in the case of Terror Castle the (C) 1992 following our names means that we became the copyright owners of The Secret of Terror Castle on January 3, 1992.
I would only add that I am told that, in the statement recently released to the German press by Kosmos, the author of the statement called the actions of Sony BMG "unconscionable."
On the contrary, it is Kosmos's actions that are unconscionable. The Three Investigators series is a series which has been loved by readers around the world for well over forty years, and by insisting on prolonging the litigation with Sony BMG by using every trick it can think of, Kosmos seems to be trying to destroy the good name of the Three Investigators series itself.
And since I have heard that some of your readers are, not unnaturally, casting the current litigation as a fight between a big, soulless international corporation (i.e. Sony BMG) and a small but spunky little company (i.e. Kosmos) which is single-handedly responsible for saving a beloved mystery book series from another big and soulless international corporation (i.e. Random House,) I need to end this interview by saying that before I lived through the last ten years, I, too, would have been tempted to put my faith in a small company rather than a large one.
However, my experience during the last ten years has shown me that history is created by individuals, and that even a big corporation has specific human beings creating the realities of its inner world, while a small private company is always vulnerable to the character of a single individual.
In this particular instance, it was not Random House as a whole, but, rather, a single individual at Random House whose actions in relation to Kosmos betrayed everything my father's work has come to stand for.
As for Sony BMG, the people who have been making the decisions for Sony BMG Germany are, in my experience, dedicated, conscientious and ethical, while the actions of whoever is ultimately responsible for making the decisions for Kosmos would seem to suggest that he, (or she,) is totally without morals.
For that reason, one of the greatest ironies of a situation which has been fraught with ironies for almost forty years now is that if whoever is still, even now, apparently intent on trying to simply steal The Three Investigators series, had been born in the town of Rocky Beach, California, and his activities had come to the attention of a stocky young genius named Jupiter Jones, and his two intrepid companions, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews, the boys would first have marked his trail with question marks, (either real or metaphoric) and then, after a thorough investigation in which they uncovered the evidence against him, would have revealed that evidence to the world.
Since Jupiter, Pete and Bob cannot, at the moment, conduct the investigation personally, perhaps some readers of this interview who are not only fans of The Three Investigators series but are also investigative reporters will consider themselves deputized.
|© 2007, Elizabeth Ann Arthur (questions provided by rocky-beach.com)
threeinvestigatorsbooks.com: Robert Arthur
United States Copyright Office: Search Copyright Records
United States Copyright Office: Copyright Law of the United States of America (1901)
Die drei ??? vs. DiE DR3i - Course of Events (in German)