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Decades-long estate battle re iconic author's works gets ... longer

It's complicated.

Ultimately, though, the protracted and acrimony-laced estate battle playing out in federal courts hardly seems unusual, given the identity of the principal and related nature of the subject matter.

We're talking John Steinbeck here, a titan of American fiction writing who died in 1968. Many of our readers have likely heard of -- if not read or seen screen adaptations of -- "The Grapes of Wrath" and "East of Eden. Steinbeck wrote those classic novels, along with scores of other works.

Steinbeck left behind a blended family of ex-wives and children when he passed away. Although the author had crafted an estate plan before he died, things have unraveled in a major since in the years following his death.

Centrally, a sustained legal battle between contending parties has raged continuously for decades. The litigation pits the estate of a deceased son, Thomas, against the claimed interests of the writer's stepdaughter, Waverly Scott Kaffaga. Kaffaga is the surviving daughter of Steinbeck's third wife/widow.

An agreement executed back in 1983 looms large in the dispute. In that pact, Steinbeck's sons accepted enhanced royalty payments in exchange for relinquishing rights to the author's works to Waverly Kaffaga's mother. Reportedly, the opportunity to make additional monies by inking new contracts for movies and plays spurred Thomas' estate to challenge the validity of the 1983 contract.

That has been done via the claim that the agreement runs counter to a material change made in copyright law back in 1976. A media report on the Steinbeck estate spat states that the change "gives artists or their blood relatives the right to terminate copyright deals." Thomas Steinbeck's estate wants a new trial and a related reevaluation of a 2017 jury award against the estate for interfering with Kaffaga's right concerning her stepfather's works.

Unsurprisingly, Kaffaga's spokespersons denigrate the estate's arguments. They note that "multiple courts" have already confirmed the 1983 contract's validity.

Yet the matter drags on. A California appellate court heard arguments in the latest round of litigation last week.

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