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John Steinbeck’s children battle on over rights to his works

John Steinbeck’s children battle on over rights to his works

The stepdaughter of famed author John Steinbeck made an appearance in federal court in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Aug. 29. It’s there that she pleaded with a judge to put an end to the decades-long ownership dispute over his works. The stepdaughter’s mother and author’s third wife had originally initiated legal action against Steinbeck’s biological son and his wife several decades ago.

It’s only since the author’s son died last year that his stepsister has reignited the legal fight for rights to Steinbeck’s most famed works. She notes that it’s only apropos to try to seek a resolution to the matter now since there are multiple Hollywood heavyweights looking to either direct or star in remakes of films based on her stepfather’s books. She notes the decades of legalese has greatly soiled the Steinbeck name.

Historically speaking, most disputes raised between the author’s former wife and his son have ended up with his widow being victorious. In this latest dispute, the judge has already ruled that the author’s son and his widow indeed breached the contract they had in place with the stepsister. That same judge has yet to determine if that breach resulted in failed Hollywood deals and thus a loss in royalties for her though.

While specific damages that the stepdaughter is seeking during this particular round of lawsuits has not yet been disclosed, the woman has previously requested as much as $6.5 million. In this case, she’s said she expects to be awarded punitive damages as well.

The stepdaughter maintains that her stepbrother conspired with his wife to purposefully work to negotiate with Hollywood filmmakers hoping that she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. She, however, has repeatedly found out about deals made behind-closed doors. One of those was as high as $650,000 with Dreamworks.

The widow of the author’s son claims he made as little as $120,000 to $200,000 per year as part-owner of the copyright to his dad’s works. She notes that the stepsister, who was never adopted by the author, had no legal right to his writings.

In complex estate litigation situations like this, legal battles can drag on for years with very little ground being gained. By working together with an experienced Indianapolis estate planning attorney to get your affairs in order, many instances of legal wrangling that many unprepared individuals face can be largely avoided.

Source:, “John Steinbeck’s relatives by marriage in copyright dispute,” Brian Melley, Associated Press, Aug. 29, 2017