Richard Adams Estate Wins Back Rights To ‘Watership Down’ In English High Court Case

Andreas Wiseman

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Watership Down Enterprises, the estate and family of author Richard Adams, has won an English High Court lawsuit against U.S. producer Martin Rosen, who wrote and directed the classic 1978 animated film of Adams’ beloved novel Watership Down.

In a judgment issued on 27 May 2020, Rosen and companies controlled by him were ordered to pay the estate court costs and an initial payment for damages totalling approximately $95,000 within twenty-eight days for infringing copyright, agreeing unauthorised license deals and denying royalty payments. Additional damages are due to be assessed at a future hearing.

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The Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC) also terminated the original contract in which motion picture rights for Watership Down were originally granted to Rosen in 1976.

The High Court heard that Rosen entered contracts worth more than $500,000 after wrongly claiming he owned all rights to Watership Down. The court also heard that Rosen made a further $85,000 from an unauthorised licence for an audiobook of the novel, and failed to pay the estate both the fees for a 2018 Netflix and BBC TV adaptation of the novel, and a share of the associated merchandising royalties.

In addition to damages and legal costs, IPEC granted an injunction preventing Rosen and his companies from continuing to license rights to Watership Down which they did not own. The Court has directed them to give further disclosures of their activities, and to destroy infringing materials on oath.

Juliet Johnson, Richard Adams’ daughter and the Managing Director of Watership Down Enterprises said: “As custodians of this most beloved novel, our family has an obligation to protect the publishing and other rights for Watership Down and to preserve the essence of our father’s creation. After many years trying to resolve matters directly with Martin Rosen, we are extremely pleased with the High Court’s ruling. We can now look forward to the future and develop new projects that honour the powerful and pertinent messages of Watership Down about the environment, leadership and friendship.”

Filmmaker Rosen told us, “During the forty-year relationship we have enjoyed with Richard Adams, we have always acted with probity. I am disappointed that Mr. Adams’s heirs seem to feel otherwise.”

Adams is said to have first come up with the story of a group of rabbits escaping from their doomed warren as a way to entertain his daughters in the car. The author passed away in 2016.

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