New issues about copyright
February 10, 2012
In older news items on this website you can read about copyright issues related to The Master and Margarita. They were always caused by Sergey Shilovsky, a grandson from one of the previous marriages of Elena Sergeevna, the third wife of Mikhail Bulgakov. Yesterday, a new issue arose with the internet library Lib.ru, though Shilovsky has got nothing to do with it.
Lib.ru is the oldest electronic library in the Russian Internet segment. The project was founded by Maksim Moshkov (°Moscow, 13/10/1966), who programmed some major media web base projects such as Gazeta.ru, Lenta.ru and Vesti.ru. The Lib.ru project receives its contributions mainly from users who send texts they scanned and processed. This method of acquisition provides the library a broad and efficient augmentability, though sometimes it adversely affects the quality due to errors and omissions. The English translation of Bulgakov’s The Faithful Eggs, for instance, is awfully bad.
Lib.ru, which is often called the Maksim Moshkov Library, received several awards, including the National Internet Award in 2003. Maksim Moshkov's project could be compared to some Wikimedia projects and is sometimes referred to as Russia's Project Gutenberg. It is sponsored by Роспечать (Rospechat), the Russian Federal Press and Mass Communications Agency.
The Lib.ru website is a goldmine for scholars and students who want to find original Russian texts. It offers not only the original source texts of, for instance, The Master and Margarita but also earlier drafts of the novel like the famous The Hoof of The Engineer version from 1928-1929. Well, it was so until recently. Because, as it happened already often with The Master and Margarita, copyright issues came up.
In the autumn of 2011, the Russian publishing house Проспект (Prospekt) demanded that Lib.ru would remove the original Russian texts of The Master and Margarita and A Dog’s Heart from the library. Yesterday, February 9, 2012, Maksim Moshkov did not only remove the original Russian texts from the library, but also the English translations by Michael Glenny en the duo Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonski. The earlier drafts of The Master and Margarita are still available.
In 2004, Lib.ru was already sued once by the KM Online media company, which is known for forming its own library by copying texts from the other electronic libraries. KM Online pretended it was acting in the name of different authors, but it turned out later that only one of them had had real claims against Lib.ru.
It’s amazing that the new claim comes from Prospekt. Since we found Bulgakov’s novels The White Guard and Ivan Vasilievich in the Prospekt catalog, but not The Master and Margarita and A Dog’s Heart. The Master and Margarita has been published in Russian by Vita Nova, АSТ, АSТ Moskva, Khranitel, Harvest, Astrel, Kristall and many other printing houses. None of them ever made claims against Lib.ru.
In most countries the protection of the copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author. For posthumously published works - that is: works published after this period of 70 years - the copyright protection expires 25 years after the date of the first lawful publication. In the case of The Master and Margarita it means so that in most countries the copyright protection on the original texts ceased to exist on January 1, 2011, because the book was first published within the first protection period of 70 years, in December 1966. In the Russian Federation though, the copyright protection for posthumously published works is 50 years. But it doesn't change the situation since, whatever interpretation one might give to the concept of "posthumous", all copyrights for The Master and Margarita ceased to exist on 1 January 2012 in Russia as well. So anyone who wants to do so is allowed to copy or, translate the original Russian text, or to adapt it into a play, a movie or a comic based without having to pay royalties. So we took the freedom to mke available the text removed by Lib.ru in the Links section of this website.