Have you seen the new adaptation of Little Women? There’s a charming moment towards the end that caught my attention – and I hope it catches yours, too, author.
Louisa May Alcott is an interesting personality to begin with. Despite women’s limited rights at the time she lived, her family desperately needed the money from her writing for their support. Like most authors, she’d taken some hits from the publishing world: Publisher James T. Field, for example, told her to stick to teaching and not to pursue writing full time. And like many other great authors, she pushed on anyway, proving him wrong: she produced over 300 literary works in her lifetime.
If you didn’t know, Louisa May Alcott’s home can be visited in Massachusetts, where it’s easy to see the inspiration for the story!
In the movie, Jo March finishes her book and visits the publisher to sell it – this is one of the many points where Little Women mirrors Alcott’s own life. The publisher made her an outright offer at the same time she was negotiating the publishing deal, and she turned it down. Alcott later spoke of the real-life version of this interaction, noting, “[An honest publisher and a lucky author, for the copyright made her fortune, and the “dull book” was the first golden egg of the ugly duckling. 1885.–L. M. A.]”
She registered the copyright for the Little Women stories after they were published. The copyright term at the time was 28 years with the option for a 14-year renewal for surviving heirs. Louisa May Alcott never got married, but adopted her nephew later in life, a move that some biographers believe was a move to protect her copyright.
She also kept the copyright on many of her other literary works, including a volume of stories for her niece, Lulu, where she also reaped the benefit of doing so.
Alcott had legally adopted her widowed sister’s son, John, to whom she willed her copyrights, allowing the ongoing income to go to Anna, niece Lulu, John, and Anna’s other son Fred. It’s said that she knew she was going to pass away soon and made these moves to ensure her work continued to benefit her family.
She passed away in 1888, and that nephew submitted a renewal for the copyright for Little Women on a 14-year renewal term in 1895. That copyright expired in October, 1924, but continued to benefit her loved ones because her nephew owned the rights and kept them active within the family.
If only so many modern authors had the foresight to protect their interests and to educate their loved ones about it!
Why This Matters for You
Here’s what’s most important about this story: Louisa May Alcott, an independent woman many years ahead of her time, knew that she needed to be smart and diligent about keeping the rights to her books.
She saw the potential for her own talent to pay off in the copyright and knew that, even with a tempting offer to hand it right over to the publisher, that it was better to negotiate to keep that for herself. Likewise, savvy authors today have to read the fine print of their contracts and agreements to know exactly what rights they do hold and also recognize the power of protecting those rights for generations to come. Alcott’s focused pursuit of her own rights is an example to all.
Do you want more information on how to protect your own intellectual property? Check out Royalty Reminder today- we’re here to help you organize all your agreements and protect your work.