Monday, October 31, 2005

William Shakespeare, Millionaire

"My love’s more richer than my tongue," Shakespeare wrote in "King Lear." The playwright did just fine in the material world, too: In his lifetime the savvy businessman was able to amass enough money to buy, among other things, the second-largest house in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon.

But as heirs of writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, Theodor (“Dr. Seuss”) Geisel and Charles Schulz are well aware, a scribe's real income can come years after death--assuming the estate is handled by an active, savvy, manager. The Bard's heirs are long dead, and there is no copyright on his work, so that's not possible. But what if it were?

We asked experts in the publishing, licensing and agenting world to try to imagine what a Shakespeare estate could expect to receive annually. Their conservative estimate: $15 million a year. The bulk of that would come from publishing royalties on the 37 plays Shakespeare wrote before his death in 1616.

Because Shakespeare's works are in the public domain--in the U.S., copyright on intellectual property generally expires 95 years after its creator dies, and international laws are similar--any publisher in the world can print his plays. And they do: Eighty-nine new editions or translations of plays were released last year alone. In all, millions of anthologies, single plays and acting copies of plays are sold to individuals, schools and theaters every year.

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