Hodgson’s Copyrights

Occasionally I am asked about the issue of Hodgson’s copyrights.  More specifically, what (if any) of his work is in the public domain.  Speaking as someone who’s published some of Hodgson’s work in the past, I have certain guidelines that I’ve operated with and I’ll spell them out here.

I encourage anyone with different knowledge to add their comments.  I am not a copyright lawyer nor have I ever played one on TV.  So I could be wrong.

As we know, Hodgson died in 1918.  Simple math tells us that this happened 95 years ago.  Now, it had been my understanding that copyrighted work, published during the author’s lifetime, retained a copyright for 75 years after the author’s death unless renewed by the estate.  I cannot say if this has changed or if it is also applicable in England.  (Perhaps one of our English readers could answer this?)

What this would mean is that anything that Hodgson published during his lifetime (whether books or magazine appearances) is in public domain.  This constitutes the bulk of his writing including the four novels and most of his short stories.

The two volumes of poetry which were published after his death in 1920-21 are also in public domain because of the length of time that has passed but also for another reason:

Hodgson has no literary estate.

When WHH died in 1918, he left his entire estate (literary and otherwise) to his wife Bessie.  She handled the distribution and selling of his work until her death in 1943.  They never had any children so Bessie passed WHH’s literary estate on to WHH’s sister, Lissie.

Not particularly astute with publishing matters, Lissie herself died in 1959 (childless), and passed WHH’s estate onto her friend and companion,  Frances Charlotte Eliza Dudley .  She, unfortunately, soon passed away herself in June of 1959 (a mere month after Lissie) and passed the WHH literary estate unto her brother.  He liquidated the assets and dissolved the estate, handling the literary estate until his own death.  (The preceding information comes via Sam Moskowitz’s introduction to TERRORS OF THE SEA.)

This explains why we see so many Hodgson editions that are available from Print-on-Demand publishers and many of his works available online for free.  Even if a publisher wished to pay someone for use of Hodgson’s work, there is no one left to benefit!

However, some work is still copyrighted.  Anything that was unpublished during Hodgson’s lifetime and then published later remains the copyrighted property of the person who found/published it.  For instance, Jane Frank published two excellent volumes of unpublished material in Wandering Soul and Lost Poetry.  She essentially ‘owns’ that material and no one can, or should, reprint or reproduce it in any way without her approval.  It was copyrighted as of the date of her publication of the material.

Sounds simple, right?

“Ah, but wait,” I hear you say, “what about those three Carnacki stories that August Derleth published in his 1947 edition?”

And there we have an anomaly. If my understanding, as outlined above, is correct, then Derleth would have copyright ownership of those stories and most especially “The Hog”.  Yet, those three stories have been included in every edition of Carnacki since 1947.   Derleth did not die until 1971 so certainly anything of his is still in copyright.

So, do lots of publishers own the Derleth estate for reprinting those three stories?  Or am I completely offbase?  I look forward to reading the comments on this issue!


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Filed under Hodgson, William Hope Hodgson

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