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Authors Lose out the Second Time around

25 March 2002

The well-known web author and journalist MJ Rose, in her column for, has drawn attention to the growing threat to authors' income posed by the spread of secondhand book sales via the Internet. Although there has always been a market for used books, more aggressive selling through eBay and Amazon has seen them listed next to new copies, with an obvious price advantage to lure buyers. But for the author this is bad news, since used book sales do not figure in publishers' figures and, if they displace new book sales, the author will not get the benefit of earning any royalties.

A literary war has broken out between the custodians of Graham Greene's papers, in support of his authorised biographer, Norman Sherry, and other writers needing access to the papers, whose right to see them is supported by members of Greene's family, the custodians of his estate. A large proportion of Greene's writings are held by the Lauinger Library at Georgetown University in Washington and the library has made it clear that it believes Greene's wish was that Norman Sherry should have first access. His son, Francis Greene, says that; 'Graham gave his papers for the good of the scholarship of the readers of the world and they have been withheld from everybody.'

Greene's final statement, signed two days before his death in April 1991, says: 'I Graham Greene grant permission to Norman Sherry, my authorised biographer, excluding any other to quote from my copyright material published or unpublished.' Before he signed the document, Greene inserted a comma between 'other ' and 'to', supposedly changing the meaning to suggest that, although Sherry was the sole authorised biographer (which is not contested), the question of whether others should be allowed access to the papers is left open. This debate could run and run.