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Dracula: Lord of the copyright undead

Bram Stoker Dracula Vampire

Dracula is the granddaddy-baddy of vampires: just about every long-running vampire story in film, TV, comics and fiction has eventually thrown him into the mix. He is the template for every modern variation (even the sparkly Twilight ones), and there’s a reason he keeps coming up: Bram Stoker’s legal mistakes made it impossible to keep a copyright lid on Drac’s coffin.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Dracula

Even Buffy couldn’t keep him down.

The major reason Dracula never truly dies is that there are no legal chains to keep him in his coffin. While Stoker wrote a bulletproof publishing contract in England for the book’s 1897 release, something went wrong in the process of debuting it in the United States, and as a result, it was in the public domain from the start.

Monsters Inc. Disney Roz

“You didn’t file your paperwork!”

That basically opened the door for anyone to swoop in and use the property, and the door’s been open ever since. You can get a copy of Dracula absolutely anywhere, legally, for free. Paperback printings are pure profit; the only expenses are printing costs and a fee to whichever English professor they pick to write the foreword. Go to the iTunes store and look up free eBooks. Dracula is about as common as the Bible or anything by those Bronte chicks.

The US copyright bungle hurt Stoker’s estate in the long run, but he still made a healthy profit off it during his life. It was loose in the US, but in 1900 the planet was a long way away from becoming a global village.

Stoker went on to write a few other things that weren’t nearly as successful as Dracula before taking the final dirt nap himself in 1912.

One year later, his widow Florence needed some cash, so she put ol’ Bram back to work again. She sold off his working notes for Dracula that year, then in 1914 she published Dracula’s Guest, a collection of short stories from her husband’s unfinished writings. The title story was a chunk from Dracula’s first section that Stoker had cut from the final draft.

Children of Hurin JRR Tolkien

Sound familiar?

That kept Florence going for a little while, but she long outlived her husband and had to keep milking his achievements. Women’s rights, voting and skinny jeans were still years away, meaning Florence couldn’t go out and get a job. with Bram dead, she was married to Dracula‘s earnings.

In 1922, A German adaptation of Dracula called Nosferatu was produced, and Florence went right after it with a lawsuit. She liked the idea, though, and sold the rights to Dracula for a theatre production that Bram had put on once. After the play’s success, Florence cashed in her chips for good: she sold the play to Universal Studios, and unloaded the novel rights, too. Universal kept the actor from the Broadway production as its Dracula for the film.

Bram Stoker Bela Lugosi Vampire Dracula

Some guy named Lugosi.

After hocking his notes, his deleted work and the rights to the greatest thing he’d ever written (in all of its forms), Florence wasn’t done. No one knows when, but at some point she pawned off one of Stoker’s manuscripts for Dracula. That manuscript contained author notes, revisions and an alternate ending. And where did they find it?

Bram Stoker Vampire Dracula Pennsylvania Manuscript Barn

Hint: not a dark scary crypt.

That’s right: it was dug up in a barn in the 1980s, unearthed by a tax lawyer. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen bought it at auction and has locked it away. Few have seen it, and Allen makes anyone who looks at it sign a non-disclosure agreement.

And who can blame him? Paul Allen is the first man in over a century to actually control a copy of Dracula that you can’t get off Project Gutenberg.

Paul Allen Teeth Microsoft

You think he’s jealous of Drac’s nice teeth?

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