The estate and family of author Richard Adams has won back the rights to Watership Down, in a High Court case against US film producer Martin Rosen. The estate brought a High Court lawsuit against American filmmaker Rosen, who wrote, directed and produced the popular 1978 animated feature adaptation voice starring John Hurt.
Adams began writing the book in 1966. He started coming up with the fantasy-epic style adventures of Hazel and his fellow rabbit refugees seeking a new home while entertaining his daughters on a car trip. Rosen purchased film rights to the book for £50,000 in 1976 with the help of Canadian banker (and later film producer) Jake Eberts (Chicken Run).
In a judgment issued by the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC) on 27 May, Rosen and companies controlled by him have been ordered to pay initial damages and court costs totalling approximately £76,000. The charges against them included copyright infringement, agreeing unauthorised licence deals and denying royalty payments. The original contract, which granted Rosen motion picture rights in 1976, has been terminated. Additional damages are expected to be assessed at a future hearing.
Richard Adams’ daughter and Watership Down Enterprises managing director Juliet Johnson said: “As custodians of this most beloved novel, our family has an obligation to protect the publishing and other rights for Watership Down and to preserve the essence of our father’s creation. After many years trying to resolve matters directly with Martin Rosen, we are extremely pleased with the High Court’s ruling. We can now look forward to the future and develop new projects that honour the powerful and pertinent messages of Watership Down about the environment, leadership and friendship.”
The court heard that Rosen had entered contracts worth more than half a million dollars, wrongly claiming he owned all rights to the book, and that he had made an additional $85,000 from unauthorizedly licensing an audiobook of the original novel, as well as failing to pay the estate fees for the Netflix/BBC TV series adaption released in 2018 or a share of associated merchandising royalties.