I don’t remember the first time I read Little Women. It’s a book I know so well that I’m using it to learn Spanish. I’m up to page 56 in Mujercitas (a Spanish translation of Alcott’s classic novel). I’ve read every biography of Alcott I could get my hands on, and I just ordered a new one. (If you’re going to read just one, I recommend Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen –https://www.amazon.com/dp/0312658877/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_ik6iEb0G6WPEB.)
Of course I watched Greta Gerwig’s new filmed version! And I was excited to learn something new about Alcott – or at least something that had never hit me before. Alcott insisted on keeping the copyright to Little Women – and it made her wealthy. Way to go, Louisa!
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Can you name another famous American who made history – and a fortune – by holding on to a copyright? It was Scott Joplin, an African-American composer (and son of a former slave) who was lucky enough to have the Maple Leaf Rag published by a businessman of incomparable integrity: John Stark.
Instead of buying the rights outright – common practice when dealing with a black composer – Stark paid Joplin a penny for each copy sold. That doesn’t sound like much – but it allowed Joplin to retire.
Every writer should have a basic understanding of how copyrights work! Click here to learn more.