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Hawking Disputes Audio Publisher's Book Rights

27 May 2002

Two collections of essays by the distinguished scientist Stephen Hawking are at the centre of a legal dispute involving the publisher New Millennium. It appears that the audio rights in Universe in a Nutshell and Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays were sold some time ago to Michael Viner at Dove Audio. This deal, agreed before Professor Hawking became a bestselling author, gave the right to publish in 'written form the text of the said recording'. Now that Michael Viner has done just that through his new company New Millennium and published, highly successfully, a transcript of one of the collections in book form, Hawking has complained to the FTC and New Millennium has now also filed a complaint.

Al Zuckerman, President of Writers' House and Hawking's agent, described the deal with Viner as 'an audio contract that says he has the right to print a transcript of the audio. At the time we made the deal in 1988 Viner was an audio publisher and it never occurred to me in my wildest dreams that the right to print a transcript of an audio would give him the right to print a book'. The case rumbles on and highlights the importance of looking carefully at the small print of any contract. Even a seemingly innocuous agreement should be treated with care as, if the author is subsequently very successful, this may well give their early work great commercial value.