Friday, December 5, 2014

The Cassady to Kerouac Letter - A Fascinating Legal Battle

A fascinating legal battle is shaping up regarding the ownership of "The Joan Anderson Letter", a December 17, 1950 letter written by Beat prototype Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac. The letter's value stems from its stream-of-consciousness style - which is generally accepted to have served as the template for Kerouac's 1957 book "On the Road" - the Bible of the Beatnik movement.

Cassady wrote the letter and sent it to Kerouac.  Sometime in 1951 or 1952, Kerouac gave the letter to his friend and fellow author, Allen Ginsberg. The provenance of the letter thereafter is a mystery, and it was long considered lost to the ages. Then, in 2011, the letter was found among the papers of Los Angeles record producer Jack Spinosa. His daughter Jean found it, and after spending several years authenticating it, has now offered it for auction.

Which brings us to the cast of claimants for the letter. The estate of the letter's author, Neal Cassady, claims that the copyright in the letter is the property of the Estate.  The Estate of Jack Kerouac claims the letter, presumably on the grounds that by sending it to Kerouac, Cassady transferred any ownership rights to Kerouac. And the Estate of Jack Spinosa claims the letter, on the grounds that Mr. Spinosa apparently came into valid ownership of it sometime after Kerouac gave it to Ginsberg.  As the finder of lost property, Jean Spinosa can claim the letter under the doctrine that the finder of lost property is entitled to a superior claim of ownership against everyone other than the true owner, whom in this case she will likely claim is her father.

Historians of the Beat era don't have a horse in this race, but are anxiously standing by to see who ends up with ownership of the letter, in the hopes that the new owner will either donate it to a museum or archive, or otherwise make it available for review and use by scholars. 

As for me, it looks like a great law school exam problem! Keep your eyes on this one - some new law may come out of it as to ownership of this kind of intellectual property.

Monday, June 30, 2014

I'm Back with a New Book, Law Firm and More!

I'm Back! It's been two years since my last blog post here - why so long?...I've been busy! 

Over the past two years, I've

  1. Taught two semesters as a visiting professor at William Boyd School of Law, at the University of Nevada - Los Vegas (teaching property law and cyberlaw); and 
  2. Joined a newly formed law firm, Sycamore Legal, P.C., based in San Francisco, as an attorney of counsel. This gives me a great new platform to work with clients on matters dealing with both transactions and litigation in high-tech, business start-ups, content licensing, entertainment, copyright, trademark and real estate law. To find out more about the firm, check out; and to contact me there, email; and
  3. I've written a book! My book, Comic Art, Creativity and the Law, has just been published by Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, a U.K. based textbook publisher. The book, which features original cover art by noted graphic artist Darick Robertson, examines the impact of contract law, copyright law, tax law and obscenity law on the creative process as applied to comic art. It discusses a variety of cases involving comic art, ranging from the copyright termination rights battles over Superman and many of the characters in the Marvel Universe (the Siegel and Shuster v. D.C. cases, and the Kirby v. Marvel case), to the parody cases involving the Winter Brothers and the Air Pirates comic books. 

The hard copy version will be released in the U.S. in August. The European version is available on the Elgar website at slightly over $100, the hardback is targeted primarily to the library and other institutions market. A much more reasonably priced version ($40), as an ebook, is available at 

My thanks to everyone who helped with the book, particularly series editors Shubha Ghosh and Robin Malloy, and endorsement writers Justin Hughes, Mark Lemley, Peter Yu and Rob Salkowitz. 

With all of this work done, it's time to return to blogging! And there is much to write about, with new SCOTUS decisions in copyright and related fields, and much more. I am also getting ready to return to San Diego for the International Comic-Con, where I'll be speaking on two panels - a Comic Arts Conference panel with Rob Salkowitz on Thursday morning; and a return to the Comic Book Law School panel on Saturday morning.  Blog posts to follow - stay tuned!