Campaign launched to support UW Press edition of “No-No Boy”

Buyer beware: The edition of No-No Boy published by the University of Washington Press is the only edition authorized by the family of John Okada. The largest publisher in the US is now opportunistically exploiting a loophole in the copyright to bring out its own unauthorized knock-off.

I am not a direct party to the copyright, so please do not pursue me for a further explication of the legal proceedings, but as the co-editor of a new anthology on the life and work of John Okada — one that is also published by the UW Press — and as a friend to the Okada family, this blog has an interest. So here is what our friend Shawn Wong wrote May 31 on his Facebook page:

On December 10, 1976, I copyrighted the novel, No-No Boy, on behalf of Dorothy Okada, the widow of John Okada, in preparation for publishing the CARP (Combined Asian-American Resources Project) edition of the novel when no publisher would reissue the book. We used our own money to publish No-No Boy.

This month Penguin released their version of No-No Boy, claiming that the novel is in the public domain thus bypassing consultation with the Okada family and stepping on the University of Washington Press version of the book, which they have been publishing for 40 years, following the CARP edition and have sold 157,000 copies.

Shame on Penguin for narrowly interpreting my copyright for their own financial gain and without consulting with the Okada family.

Shawn elaborated in further online comments:

Penguin rights people and lawyers are claiming I only copyrighted the introduction to the CARP printing. That’s a truly narrow interpretation and an interpretation solely for the financial gain of Penguin so that they can bypass both my copyright and the Okada family. That is a moral outrage.

It’s complicated because the novel was first published in Japan. I copyrighted it in the US in 1976 for the Okada family. Penguin is claiming I filled out form wrong and only copyrighted part of the new printing, which is bullshit. The UW Press honored the copyright, but Penguin decided not to. Let me ask this, why would I publish a novel and not register the copyright properly?

Penguin would have been fully aware that the UW Press has been publishing the novel for 40 years. (Lawyers for the UW Press) tried (to stop this publication) and failed, but UW Press retains all foreign rights and film rights. That aside, to not consult with the Okada family is a travesty and does injury to all Asian American writers. The legal fight is over, but the social media war is just beginning.

The University of Washington Press has made a 40 year commitment to publishing Asian American literature and those of us in the field as writers, artists and scholars should continue to support the UW Press over the carpetbaggers.

If you use No-No Boy in your classes, please continue to order the Univ. of Washington Press version of the novel, and your order will support university presses and independent publishers.

Penguin also will release Bulosan’s America is in the Heart which the UW Press ALSO publishes. It’s infuriating. It’s infuriating, shameful, and Penguin released it during Asian Pacific Heritage Month.

UW Press has kept the book in print for more than 40 years, serving students and general readers. The book has never gone out of print since 1976. Whether or not the largest publisher in the US has a legal right to now bring out an unauthorized edition of No-No Boy,  you can judge for yourself whether it has a moral right.

From the UW Press, we’ve learned the book was automatically copyrighted under Japanese law when Charles Tuttle first published No-No Boy in Japan in 1957, and that copyright was respected in all Berne Convention countries. However, according to an expert attorney retained by UW Press, the US was not a signatory to the Berne Convention at the time, and Tuttle evidently did not file copyright in the US. In addition, John Okada was a citizen of the US, not Japan. As a result, the argument goes, the work was not “re-captured” from the public domain when the US finally joined the Berne Convention in 1989, nor during successive copyright reforms in the decades that followed.

As you can see above, the US Copyright Office granted a copyright to Dorothy Okada in 1976, through the application made on her behalf by a 26-year old Shawn Wong, and when you look at all correspondence from him at the time it’s clear that he understood the copyright was for the full text of No-No Boy. However, according to attorneys, it appears the issue with the Berne Convention is the controlling issue here.

Lawyers for Penguin Random House have asserted the work is in the public domain in the US, and that they have the right to publish it, with no royalties to the Okada family. However, according to UW Press, the work remains covered by the Okada copyright in all other major territories including Japan, the UK, and the European Union. Dorothy Okada passed in 2011, and her heirs have been satisfied to have UW Press handle the legal work for them. Worldwide ancillary rights remain with Okada’s children, and continue to be administered for them by UW Press.

Proof that Penguin ripped off the UW Press edition can be found on p. xxv. You can see in this photo provided by Eddie Chern the erroneous “John Okada” signature at the end of the Preface. As we reported in this blog post at the time, that error was made only in the 2014 redesign of the UW Press edition with the blue Jillian Tamaki cover. It has since been corrected. It was never in the original Tuttle hardcover or the CARP paperback. Penguin simply scanned the earliest version of the UW Press edition.

While the Penguin knock-off has a new introduction by Karen Tei Yamashita, she bears no responsibility for this unauthorized edition. Karen sought out this writer at a JANM event and also at AAAS to inform me of her involvement and to say that she was never told of any legal issues. Our thanks and appreciation go to Karen for making it a point in her Introduction to acknowledge the role of CARP and Shawn in bringing the novel back to light, and to mention our new JOHN OKADA anthology. Very classy.

Says Shawn: Please do not blame Karen for any of this. I’ve spoken to her and Penguin, of course, didn’t tell her any of the rights violation, etc. She’s innocent in all of this and there would’ve been no reason for Karen to know any of the business side of the contract.

The other shameful thing is Penguin is using quotes from Ruth Ozeki’s essay that’s published in the UW Press version of No-No Boy in their publicity.

In sum, when it comes to a purchase or assignment in a course syllabus, please support the University of Washington Press edition of No-No Boy. It’s the only edition authorized by the family of John Okada. It is also the only edition with the benefit of what, after 40 years, are now primary documents: Lawson Inada’s introduction and Frank Chin’s Afterword, both of which give your students the story of how the novel was lost and came to be found and republished by CARP.

Prof. Emily Lawsin goes further and suggests on Facebook that, “Faculty ordering textbooks should order using the UW Press ISBN (9780295994048) and mark ‘no other edition acceptable’ on book order forms.”

UPDATES: On June 6, 2019, the New York Times broke this story in the mainstream media with “Dispute Arises Over ‘No-No Boy,’ a Classic of Asian-American Literature With a Complex History.” The story quotes the Okada Estate:

Dorothea Okada, John Okada’s daughter, said her family was unaware of any issues with their claim to the copyright, and that the family wasn’t contacted by Penguin before the new edition was published. The Okadas have been receiving royalties from the University of Washington Press for several decades, and it’s unclear whether they will get any compensation from the Penguin edition. (Penguin declined to say whether the Okadas will receive royalties, saying the company would contact the family directly.)

“The university press has done a really good job guiding the book, so we were really happy with what they’ve been doing, and I don’t think a bigger press would do anything for it,” Dorothea Okada said. “We would never change publishers.”

News coverage:
— New York Times, “Dispute Arises Over ‘No-No Boy,’ a Classic of Asian-American Literature With a Complex History” by Alexandra Alter, June 6 2019
— Los Angeles Times, “New edition of Japanese America novel ‘No-No Boy’ sparks backlash,” by Tracy Brown, June 7, 2019
— Seattle Times,How those who saved a classic novel are fighting to keep it in local hands,” by Moira Macdonald, June 13, 2019
— South China Morning Post, “Classic Japanese-American novel No-No Boy caught up in copyright dispute,” June 18, 2019
— International Examiner, “Social media tempest brings new attention to Asian American literary classics,” by Vince Schleitwiler, June 20, 2018

So far, four Seattle-area booksellers have returned their Penguin Classics edition, saying they will stock only the UW Press edition: the Elliott Bay Book Company, Third Place Books, University Bookstore, and Phinney Books.