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A clear and present copyright battle

Tom Clancy introduced the character of Jack Ryan more than thirty years ago. His novel launched not only his literary legacy, but also a cinematic franchise that started with The Hunt for Red October. Not long after, Clancy found himself in a battle with the publisher over using his very own creation in future novels and any subsequent movies.

The United States Naval Institute published Hunt in 1984. They also claimed all rights to the book, including Jack Ryan and other characters. The case went to arbitration and settled with Clancy acknowledged as the rightful owner. Soon after, Clancy established Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd to receive the reassignment of the Hunt copyright.

However, like the movie series, sequels featuring twists and turns have continued the “adventures.”

Almost four years after her husband’s death, Alexandra Clancy, the author’s second wife, filed a lawsuit against J.W. Thompson Webb, the personal representative of her husband’s estate. Clancy’s widow claims that the assignment never mentioned the character of Jack Ryan, effectively ending her late husband’s ownership with his death.

She cites Clancy’s 1999 marital settlement agreement with his first wife that listed literary works owned by Jack Ryan Enterprises, including Hunt, as part of the division of property.

After Clancy’s death, Webb signed agreements with Putnam that authorized more “Tom Clancy” novels, one that featured the Jack Ryan character. The personal representative – along with Clancy’s longtime copyright lawyer – believes ownership of Jack Ryan should stay with Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Alexandra Clancy is asking a Baltimore, Maryland, circuit court to declare ownership of her husband’s most prized possession solely to the Tom Clancy Estate. Should she succeed, all rights to the Jack Ryan character will go to the estate instead of being divided between Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd and other parties.

For now, all proceeds from contracts are in escrow. A battle in civil court is pending.

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