Opposing Copyright Extension

Commentary on Copyright Extension

Who Owns Jane Austen--the Public or the Descendants of her Brothers?
Summary of March 25, 1996, Wall Street Journal Article
and Comment Letter by Dennis S. Karjala


Click here to return to the Opposing Copyright Extension Home Page.


On March 25, 1996, the Wall Street Journal published a front page article by Amy Stevens entitled, Poor Jane Austen Didn't Live to See "Sense and Sensibility." The article noted the recent spate of films based on Jane Austen's works and the grousing of some of her distant descendants. (Jane Austen herself died childless, so the grousers are descendants of her four brothers--great, great, great nephews and nieces of the author.) The complaints were of two types:  Some just wanted a share of the earnings from recently created works based on the public domain Jane Austen novels. One factory worker, for example, said he had been working at a "dead boring" job for 25 years so it "would be quite nice" to have some income from the newly found popularity of Jane Austen's works. Another said he was pleased with the family connection but would rather be able to buy a Mercedes to replace his old VW. The second group complained about having no control over Jane Austen's "artistic legacy." One claimed to be "depressed" at resiting Emma in a southern California high school, for example. Others were "furious" at some of the risque scenes in the TV miniseries version of Pride and Predjudice. According to another, Persuasion was "perfectly frightful."

On April 18, 1996, the Wall Street Journal published several letters commenting on this article under the heading "Nobody Owns Jane Austen." The following comment from Dennis Karjala was among those published here (reprinted in the James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 4, Summer 1996, at page 651):

Re: The Plight of Jane Austen's Distant Relatives