Aramaic Peter Rabbit: Warne & Co’s Copyright Bluff

So today I heard back from Warne, one of the publishers I sent The Tale of Peter Rabbit in Galilean Aramaic to. Also also of note, they were the book’s original publisher…

(Well in truth it’s second publisher. They originally rejected Peter Rabbit when Beatrix Potter threw the idea in their way the first time, but reconsidered when they saw a self-published run, of ~250 copies, that she was distributing to her family and friends.)

Anyways, I had sent them a prospectus with all of the details of the project and the workbook I’m putting together for it asking if they were interested in publishing it themselves. They forwarded me to their editing department, and then a number of days later I received this:

From: Stefan.Davey@[…….]
Subject: FW: The Tale of Peter Rabbit in Galilean Aramaic w/Study Guide
Date: February 12, 2011 5:20:03 AM EST
To: [Steve Caruso]

Dear Steve Caruso,

Thank you for your enquiry regarding translation rights to “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”.

Unfortunately Frederick Warne does not publish or distribute local language editions, instead we license the rights to local language publishers who translate and manage the distribution process of their own editions within their territory.

If you know of a publisher or an academic press that is interested in publishing a Gallilean Aramaic edition using yourself as the translator, please pass on my details. The licensing of the translation rights for a retail edition can then be discussed but royalties are payable on the retail price of the edition. Alternatively, if the translation is to be used for academic purposes a permission licence may be granted for a one off fee.

If you wish to apply for a permission licence, please send an email to the following address: [the address] You will receive an automated response containing an permission application form. Please complete the form and return it to the same email address.

Frederick Warne & Co. is the owner of all rights, copyrights and trademarks in the Beatrix Potter character names and illustrations. Translations of the works must not be published or used in any context without the prior written consent of Frederick Warne.

Kind regards,

Stefan Davey – International Rights Director
Warne, Ladybird & BBC Children’s Books
Tel: [number]
Fax: [number]
Mobile: [number]

You can probably see right off the bat how I, as a trained Librarian, the course of whose study is to understand copyright and public domain issues was a bit more than irked.

If you don’t, please allow me to explain how the above email: Where it is seemingly professional, it is a bluff.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was originally publicly published in 1902 and Warne failed to properly register its copyright with the United States. Over 100 years later, any copyrights that could have been secured have more than expired under US Copyright law and as such, the entirety of The Tale of Peter Rabbit is in the Public Domain.

However, this has not stopped Warne from obtaining Trademarks associated with the Peter Rabbit series, including the phrases “Peter Rabbit,” “The Original Peter Rabbit Books,” “Peter Rabbit’s” (for materials of the formula “Peter Rabbit’s X”, etc.) for items from cookies to toilet soaps.

They also own Trademarks on two several images including:

The image of Peter Rabbit running on the cover of the book (at the top of this entry).

(In court documents, Warne claims that their customers associate this above image with their firm as much as Mickey Mouse is associated with Disney. However, hardly anyone in America knows who Frederick Warne & Co. is. Americans certainly associate it with its author Beatrix Potter, though.)

And the line drawing of a coney from the title page. (Which I personally think is ridiculous, as no one associates those images with Fredrick Warne [or “Fredrick who?” I’m asked when I’ve discussed this with dozens of others unfamiliar with this issue]; they associate them with the author Beatrix Potter.)

Interestingly enough, they do not own the Trademark to “Peter Rabbit Farms” as that Trademark is owned by Peter Rabbit Farms, Inc. in reference to fresh vegetables.

Warne, however, does not hold a Trademark that would prevent the publication of the original The Tale of Peter Rabbit or a derivative book such as my translation (provided that I do not use either any of their Trademarked images).

Especially since this has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt through the courts. In Frederick Warne & Co. v. Book Sales, Inc., 481 F. Supp. 1191 (Southern District of New York, 1979) we find them admitting that, “Warne concedes that the seven works [in question, one of which includes Peter Rabbit] are in the public domain.”

So in essence, where I made an inquiry about their company publishing my work, their representative answered a very different question in a carefully-worded manner so that I would be of the impression that I need a license from them for rights they do not own.

Don’t get me wrong, they are 100% correct when they state, “Frederick Warne & Co. is the owner of all rights, copyrights and trademarks in the Beatrix Potter character names and illustrations. Translations of the works must not be published or used in any context without the prior written consent of Frederick Warne,” as they *do* hold copyright to Beatrix Potter’s works that *are not* in the Public Domain (such as The Tale of Little Pig Robinson), but note how they don’t mention Peter Rabbit by name in this declaration.

Very deliberate.

I’m now waiting to hear back from two more publishers on this matter, so we’ll see if something can still be arranged for in time for Easter.


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