Tentative settlement reached in dispute over copyrights to Wilder books

Tuesday, April 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ The parties in a legal battle over copyrights to two books by author Laura Ingalls Wilder have reached a tentative settlement under which a southern Missouri library district would get $875,000.

Wilder, who died in 1957, wrote ``Little House on the Prairie'' and other books about pioneer life that spawned the popular TV series.

In 1999, the Wright County Library Board filed a federal lawsuit claiming copyrights to all of Wilder's books. The board argued Wilder intended for her copyrights to pass to the library after the death of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. After Lane's death in 1968, the copyrights were passed to a friend, Roger Lea MacBride.

Last year a federal judge dismissed the board's claim to royalties from six other Wilder books. Then in January, a Jackson County probate judge ruled the library has a legitimate claim to the ``Little Town on the Prairie'' and ``These Happy Golden Years'' royalties.

Now New York-based HarperCollins Publishers and Wilder's heirs have tentatively agreed to contribute $875,000 to get the library district to settle the lawsuits, The Kansas City Star reported Tuesday.

The proposed settlement was reached late last month but still must be signed by the parties and formally approved by a federal judge in Kansas City and a probate judge in Wright County, the newspaper said.

If completed, the settlement would conclude 18 months of litigation over the literary legacy of one of the nation's best-loved children's authors.

In return for the proposed settlement, lawyers said the library board would renounce any claim to the copyrights of the two books.

In the proposed settlement, the publisher, MacBride's estate and his daughter admit no liability and describe the $875,000 payment as a ``contribution'' rather than a settlement.

``I guess if we all want to call that a contribution, we're free to do so,'' Topper Glass, a Springfield lawyer representing the library board, said at last month's hearing.

Wright County officials have said that any money gained from the lawsuits would be used to upgrade library facilities and improve services.