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Has protracted litigation spotlighting famed author finally ended?

“This has to end. We cannot say it any clearer.”

A statement like that doesn’t seem to leave much wiggle room, does it?

Especially when it is uttered by a federal appellate judge speaking on behalf of a unanimous court panel.

Judge Richard Tallman and his brethren might enjoy reading the novels of famed American author John Steinbeck, but they certainly want to be freed from further litigation surrounding the writer.

That legal discord has long dominated entertainment news outlets. We have also noted it at the Los Angeles Law Offices of Barry K. Rothman. We spotlighted in a recent blog post (please see our August 16 entry) the “protracted and acrimony-laced estate battle” waged between Steinbeck relatives, which has essentially been ongoing in some fashion since the author’s death back in 1968.

The 3-0 ruling issued last week by Tallman and two other justices from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals might have finally put a definitive stop to the drama. Following is a summary of what it provided for.

First, the tribunal upheld a lower court ruling awarding a stepdaughter of Steinbeck rights to exploit and profit from Steinbeck’s works via further productions (e.g., plays and screenplays).

Waverly Scott Kaffaga was ceded those rights in an agreement long ago inked with one of Steinbeck’s sons. That son’s wife was accused of interfering with Kaffaga’s rights. The lower court awarded Kaffaga $5 million in compensatory damages and an additional $8 million in punitives for that conduct.

While the appellate court affirmed the actual damage amount, it relieved Gail Steinbeck (the son’s widow) of the duty to pay out the additional millions in punitive damages, citing her obvious inability to do so.

The bottom line: The ruling underscores a partial victory for both parties and, as stressed by one media account, now enables Kaffaga “to make the most of Steinbeck’s copyrights.”

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