Family of Watership Down author win back rights to the book

Family of Watership Down author Richard Adams win back rights to the book from producer behind the classic cartoon film who has profited ever since thanks to ‘deal that would never be allowed today’

  • Family of author Richard Adams have won back the rights to Watership Down
  • High Court found Mr Rosen wrongly claimed he owned all rights to the book
  • Court found Mr Rosen had failed to pay the estate its share of royalties

The family of British author Richard Adams have won a court battle over the rights to Watership Down against American film producer Martin Rosen. 

The book, which presents animals in the British countryside as refugees fleeing destruction wrought by man, was written by civil servant Richard Adams and released in 1972.

Adams, who passed away in 2016, came up with the idea for the novel while reading bedtime stories to his two daughters, Juliet and Rosamond. 

The High Court in London ruled on May 27 that US filmmaker Mr Rosen, who produced the 1978 film adaptation, had wrongly claimed that he owned all rights to the novel. 

The family of British author Richard Adams have won a court fight over the rights to Watership Down against American film producer Martin Rosen. Above, Adams pictured with his daughters Juliet and Rosamond in 2014

The book, which presents animals in the British countryside as refugees fleeing destruction wrought by man, was written by civil servant Richard Adams and released in 1972

The book, which presents animals in the British countryside as refugees fleeing destruction wrought by man, was written by civil servant Adams (above) and released in 1972 

The court heard that Mr Rosen had made £68,000 ($85,000) from signing contracts for an unauthorised audio book and had entered into contracts worth more than £400,975 ($500,000) while claiming that he held all rights to the novel.

Mr Rosen, 83, failed to pay the Adams estate and family its share of merchandising royalties and royalties from a 2018 adaptation of the novel, on which he worked as executive producer, the High Court heard.   

Judge Hacon ordered Mr Rosen and his companies to pay an initial £80,000 ($100,000) for copyright infringement, agreeing unauthorised license deals and denying royalty payments.. 

The court also terminated the contract in which motion picture rights for Watership Down were granted to Mr Rosen. 

Adams (pictured), who passed away in 2016, came up with the idea for the novel while reading bedtime stories to his two daughters, Juliet and Rosamond

Adams’s eldest daughter Juliet Johnson, now aged 62, is the managing director of Watership Down Enterprises.

She said of the ruling: ‘Six years ago I started trying to help dad with his finances because I couldn’t understand why so little was coming in,’ The Times reported.

‘A lawyer told him he would never have been allowed today. It was a shame because my father regarded him as such a friend. 

‘My daughter said my father would be proud of us for getting back the rights but I think he would have been humiliated. Sometimes bills would come in and either parent would have to sell something, either ceramics or rare books, to pay them. 

‘It should be joyful that we have won these rights back but in reality it is a tragedy.’  

Watership Down was one of the most famous, successful, and in its own way shocking novels of the 20th century

Released in 1972, the year that Greenpeace was just being launched, Watership Down presented animals in the British countryside as refugees fleeing destruction wrought by man

Watership Down was one of the most famous, successful, and in its own way shocking novels of the 20th century. 

Released in 1972, the year that Greenpeace was just being launched, Watership Down presented animals in the British countryside as refugees fleeing destruction wrought by man.

The rabbits would be gassed, caught in snares, poisoned, shot at, betrayed, drawn into cults, and beaten to death. 

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