All posts by Frank Abe

Producer/director of CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION, now available as a Two-Disc Collector's Edition DVD with two hours of new bonus features on the largest organized resistance to the WW2 incarceration of Japanese Americans.

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.

“The Lim Report” now back online: the Mueller Report of its time

The Lim Report book coverThanks to your requests, we’ve spent some time to make “The Lim Report” available online once again. In many ways, it was the Mueller Report of its time.

Deborah Lim’s work was explosive for the details she revealed of  JACL cooperation and collaboration with the government in our own wartime incarceration, its suppression of resistance, and its demonization of the no-no’s and renunciants at Tule Lake. Continue reading “The Lim Report” now back online: the Mueller Report of its time

“JOHN OKADA” and the Day of Remembrance in New York City

The Japanese American community in each city is unique, but the team effort in New York City that is JAJA (Japanese Americans and Japanese in America) is truly special. Julie Azuma provides the space but everyone pitches in bring potlock, set up, and clean up. The collective energy really brings everyone together, and the audience focus is amazing. We had a lively discussion of the life and work of Photo: Susan McCormac HamakerJohn Okada in a living room setting, and the night was made more special with the presence of John’s niece, Beverly Okada of Long Island (seated next to me on the sofa with the vest). Continue reading “JOHN OKADA” and the Day of Remembrance in New York City

Full house for Los Angeles book launch of “JOHN OKADA”

photo by Nancy OdaAngelenos react to a rainstorm as Seattleites do to snow: it’s an excuse to stay indoors. So we have many thanks to all those who braved the rain in Los Angeles last week to come to our JOHN OKADA launch events at USC, UCLA, and the Japanese American National Museum.
photo by Cory Shiozaki
The full house of 250 that packed the Tateuchi Democracy Forum at JANM was especially fun.  The discussion was lively and it was a real treat to see so many friends there, including Martha Nakagawa, Naomi Hirahara, Karen Tei Yamashita, Nobuko Miyamoto, Tak Hoshizaki,  and Masumi Izumi even flew in from Japan for the weekend.  Our special guests for the event were John Okada’s children from Pasadena, Dorothea Okada and Matthew Okada, who contributed so much time in the writing of their father’s biography. Continue reading Full house for Los Angeles book launch of “JOHN OKADA”

John Okada featured in new MIS film, “The Registry”

It was a quintessentially Okada-esque rainy day in 2015 when Midwest filmmakers Bill Kubota and Steve Ozone came to Seattle to talk with me about John Okada.

I’d known Bill from our mutual support on his film on Ben Kuroki, Most Honorable Son, and my film, Conscience and the Constitution, which featured Kuroki. He and Steve were doing a new film on the Military Intelligence Service, and they wanted to know more about Okada’s service in Guam with “The Flying Eight-Ball.”  We talked in my basement office, then ventured out in the rain to see the clock tower at King Street Station where the novel opens.

You can see what a nice job they did in this clip from The Registry.

Continue reading John Okada featured in new MIS film, “The Registry”

Events coming up for the first half of 2019

Thanks to all who came to hear us speak in 2018. The schedule for the first half of 2019 is shaping up as an even busier one, with events for JOHN OKADA, CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION, and a look back at the first Day of Remembrance.  For updates on this calendar, please always check the Upcoming Events page on the main menu. Continue reading Events coming up for the first half of 2019

The first Day of Remembrance, Thanksgiving Weekend 1978

Forty years ago on Thanksgiving weekend, we gathered at Sick’s Stadium in Seattle’s Rainier Valley to kick-start the popular campaign for Japanese American redress.

Here’s the inside story of how it all came together, and where it led. Thanks to Natasha Varner for commissioning this piece for the Densho Blog.

The First Day of Remembrance, Thanksgiving Weekend 1978

Retracing the steps of the Minidoka draft resisters

While in Idaho for a symposium, I took the opportunity to research settings for the forthcoming graphic novel on camp resistance, in particular the places where the draft resisters from Minidoka were jailed and put on trial in September, 1944.

Ada County Courthouse, Boise

With the Friends of Minidoka — Hanako Wakatsuki, Mia Russell, and Kurt Yokoyama Ikeda — we started at the Ada County Courthouse, where Jim and Gene Ada County Courthouse interiorAkutsu and the other draft resisters were brought from camp and held in the old jail on the top floors. We could still see the iron grates over the windows, from where they could look out. The top floors are now sealed off from the public. Continue reading Retracing the steps of the Minidoka draft resisters

See video of Seattle book launch for “JOHN OKADA”

The Seattle book launch for JOHN OKADA was a fun one, thanks to the 85 people who joined us to celebrate the legacy of the Seattle novelist and help launch our new book on his life and unknown works.

speakers on panel Continue reading See video of Seattle book launch for “JOHN OKADA”

“Resistance, Resettlement, and Redress”

Frank Abe at podiumI’m no lawyer, but I could not say no when the Case Western Reserve Law Review asked for a piece based on our EO9066 panel last November.

The symposium offered me the opportunity to revisit the McDonald Maternity Hospital in Cleveland where I was born, just a block from the Western Reserve campus, and explore my own pre-history of the postwar resettlement of my father out of Heart Mountain and into the Midwest. Continue reading “Resistance, Resettlement, and Redress”