A reader of my post about Clark Ashton Smith responded that since works published between 1923 and 1963 had to be renewed with the Copyright Office 28 years after their original publication — which the authors or heirs often failed to do — many of the old Weird Tales stories are now in public domain and have been for decades. This would mean, for example, that “The End of the Story,” Smith’s first Averoigne tale published in May 1930, has been in public domain since 1959.
Maybe. Within reach I have a Ballantine/Del Rey paperback of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror, 14th printing, June 1988 (with the Michael Whelan cover). The front matter copyrights it 1939, 1943 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, then again in 1964 by August Derleth, followed by the statement: “This edition published by arrangement with Arkham House.”
When and even if Smith’s stuff entered public domain is irrelevant to my point. My point is that Arkham House consistently kept Lovecraft’s work in paperback but not Smith’s — and that’s why Smith is not as well known today.
While writing my initial post, I contacted Robert Weinberg, editor of the Smith collection The Return of the Sorcerer. I asked Mr. Weinberg what versions he used for his omnibus — did he take them from Weird Tales, and if so, was it because those stories are in the public domain? Or did he license them from Wildside Press? I assumed that because Wildside publishes the modern incarnation of Weird Tales that they owned the back catalog as well. I was wrong:
Wildside does not own Weird Tales. Wildside licenses the Weird Tales name for a fee, and pays Weird Tales for reprinting stories that are not in public domain.
The copyright law extends back to 1923 which is when Weird Tales began publishing. While it is true that some Clark Ashton Smith stories have fallen into public domain because of lack of effort by [Smith’s literary executor], a number of stories are still protected by copyright. Arkham House does retain control over many Smith stories.
Relying on [Smith’s literary executor] for information on what is in public domain and what is protected by copyright is a sure way to get into serious trouble.
For the record, I owned Weird Tales until just recently. It is now owned by a major entertainment corporation. They have indicated to me they intend to protect their copyrights very strictly and have the legal muscle to do just that.
Presumably said major corporation is Paradox Entertainment — though I could be wrong again. Weinberg had one more piece of advice for me:
I would drop plans for a Smith collection if I was you.
No worries there. I threw up my hands in disgust after talking with Smith’s representative. If his own estate doesn’t give a shit about Smith’s material, why should I?