The Pern Dispute

Questions & Answers

Update: 10/04/05 We just returned from Archon 29 in Collinsville, IL. When we arrived there we were informed that Katz had sent another of his Cease & Desist letters to the convention threatening to sue them if they allowed us to vend there. Fortunately, Rich & Michelle Zellich who run Archon are much classier people than Patrick Henry at Dragon*Con. We had a quick discussion and proceeded to vend as planned, including the Pern merchandise which we almost sold out of what we'd brought. Archon did not get involved in the dispute.

A rather interesting thing did happen, Bill Fawcett was one of the Guests of Honor at this convention. He stopped by our booth 3 separate times to see how things were going. The last time, he told my wife that he'd given us a plug in one of his panel discussions to get more people to check out our goods. This was kind of him to offer. Word-of-mouth is a vital component in the success of many businesses. Most people discover their favorite products and places through recommendations from friends and family. It is the best kind of publicity. I've queried him in an email about this but have no reply as of yet.

Update: 9/13/05 Got a call today from the folks at Science Fiction Chronicle, apparently they're doing an article too!

Update: SciFi's Newswire just came out with an article on this whole mess. Not 100% accurate but they got the jist of it. They keep moving the link to it so I've just copied it here.

Pern Copyright Suit In Limbo

Jay A. Katz, a lawyer representing SF writer Anne McCaffrey, told SCI FI Wire that the author of the Dragonriders of Pern series was sued by a leatherworks seller named Steve Austin in a dispute over copyright, but that the case is now in limbo.

"Mr. Austin sought [a declaratory judgment of] libel in the courts of Michigan after serving McCaffrey with a summons and complaint at Dragon-Con in Atlanta," Katz said in response to e-mail questions. "But the case was dismissed because of a lack of personal jurisdiction by the judge, because she was not served in the state of Michigan."

In an interview, Austin said: "There is currently no legal action in the works. But I do have the option of refilling the lawsuit in Atlanta, and if they start screwing with me again, I guess I'll have to do it."

The case revolves around Austin's alleged copyright infringement of designs taken from The Dragonlover's Guide to Pern, a collection of artwork based on McCaffrey's best-selling Pern novels. Austin is charged with illegally creating leather items derived from the artwork and selling them over the Internet.

Katz said that in March 1995, Austin wrote to McCaffrey in an attempt to acquire the rights to create items based on The Dragonlover's Guide to Pern. "He was referred to Bill Fawcett, the copyright owner of the book art," Katz said. "At the time, there was no indication that Mr. Austin was going to sell his goods over the Internet in a commercial, rather than a limited fan-convention, environment."

Not surprisingly, Austin sees things differently. "I had conversations with Bill Fawcett, and it was agreed that I would have the license to use the artwork that was in the book to create leather goods based on the designs from the book," Austin told SCI FI Wire. "The only limitation was that I would be limited to one hundred pieces of each item, but that I would be able to change the design slightly and be able to do more editions of one hundred pieces. There was never a limitation on how I could sell these items. They knew at the time of the deal that I was selling on the Internet and that, while I do sell at conventions, the majority of the items would be sold through the Internet."

Austin admitted to having nothing in writing regarding the deal. "I sent a letter to Bill Fawcett confirming the conversation we had on the phone," Austin said. "It was at his suggestion that I send him a check for $1 just to formalize the deal, which I did. I never got anything back in writing from him. But he signed and cashed the check, which, according to attorneys I talked to, absolutely constitutes a contract."

Katz said that in 2001, "Ms. McCaffrey discovered through a company that had acquired the merchandising rights to Pern that Mr. Austin was selling Pern merchandise. She asked Austin to cease and desist. He refused, claiming he had obtained a license from Mr. Fawcett."

But Austin said that in 2001 he was contacted by Alec Johnson, McCaffrey's business manager at the time. "At the time he was in the process of trying to negotiate movie and merchandising deals for the Pern books," Austin said. "The merchandising companies had to have exclusive rights, but they chose not to include me or my deal with Fawcett in their disclosure. When the merchandising company found out about me, they went back to Alec, who, in turn, contacted me and said I had no right to do what I was doing and that, if I didn't stop, they were going to hit me with a six-figure lawsuit. I had an e-mail correspondence with Alec and explained the deal between Bill Fawcett and myself. His response was, 'I don't care.'"

Katz said that Austin is definitely in the wrong. "Mr. Austin is infringing on Ms. McCaffrey's intellectual property rights in her Pern novels by using elements from the novels depicted in the artwork published in The Dragonlover's Guide to Pern."

Austin, who continues to sell Pern-inspired items on the Internet and at fan conventions, feels differently. "I'm not treading on the intellectual property of Anne McCaffrey, because Bill Fawcett made a deal with me, and I've lived up to my end of it," he said. "If they had wanted to be nice about it, they could have bought all my existing stock, given me an honorable mention on the Pern Web site, and it all could have been done with."

Update: I've added a Questions & Answers page to the site.

Update: Aug. 24th, 2005, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have seen fit to publish libelous statements about me. I am  currently in discussion with our legal advisors as to what steps to take. Seems that instead of the McCaffrey family contacting me and trying to work this out as adults, they've decided to let this organization slander me. Despite the fact that they persuaded Patrick Henry, the Chair for Dragon*Con to ban me from that event, I'd thought things had quieted down and they'd decided to leave this all alone. Guess not, since John Barnes of SFWA informed me that 2 months ago Anne McCaffrey filed a formal grievance against me.

I've attempted to contact Todd McCaffrey directly, we'll see what comes of that.

I'm also considering re-filing the original lawsuit in Atlanta where the question of jurisdiction is moot. I do appreciate Patrick Henry's assistance in proving our case for loss of revenue. I get the feeling he'll be involved in the re-filed suit.

Update: The suit was dismissed on lack of jurisdiction here, we should have filed it in Atlanta. The attorney I had, has been dismissed from the case.

Below are the documents concerning Case#03-052124-CZ.

Steven C. Austin, Plaintiff V. Anne McCaffrey, Defendant.

This suit was filed in Oakland County 6th Judicial Court, Pontiac, Michigan on August 26th, 2003.

Each one will open in a new browser window. Please close it to return to this window.

The Legal Filing

Exhibit A Page 1, Page 2

Exhibit B

Exhibit C Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4

Exhibit D Page 1, Page2

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