Mo Yan: Blood in the Water
It should come as no surprise that Mo Yan's Nobel win would lead to rights and representation disputes around the world. One bit of drama at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair began with the announcement that Andrew Wylie had taken over representation of all Mo Yan's novels – which came as news to both the Dijkstra Literary Agency and the Peony Literary Agency, both of which have represented Mo Yan in various capacities. Peony, sold worldwide English rights for Mo Yan's Sandalwood Curse, and was in the process of selling Frog, Mo Yan's newest novel, seems to have accepted Wylie's claim. Dijkstra, originally the agents of Mo Yan's English translator, Howard Goldblatt, claims to represent his entire backlist – the conflict has yet to be resolved.
Meanwhile, Mo Yan's rights situation within China is an even bigger mess: no fewer than 15 publishing houses claim to have some form of right to publish his works. Given the prevalence of non-exclusive, short-term publishing contracts in China (and publishers' common practice of ignoring the fact that their contract has expired), it's likely that all 15 publishers did, at one time or another, hold those rights.
One publishing company has now staked its claim to be the sole agent of Mo Yan's domestic Chinese rights. On October 22, the Beijing Genuine & Profound Culture Development Co. (北京经典博维文化发展有限公司) held a press conference in Beijing, announcing that they'd signed a contract with Mo Yan in May of this year to agent all his Chinese works.
To bolster their claim, the handwritten contract with Mo Yan was produced for photographs, and comments were delivered by representatives of China's General Administration of Press and Publication, Beijing's Bureau of Press and Publication, Peking University's School of Intellectual Property Law, as well as legal counsel, the Writers Publishing House, and Genuine and Profound itself.
Genuine and Profound announced that, in conjunction with the state-owned Writers Publishing House, they would be publishing a newly-edited series of 20 of Mo Yan's works. Not all existing publications of Mo Yan's works are illegal – in particular, a 16 volume series of Mo Yan's novels published by the Shanghai Arts and Literature Publishing House is still within the legal term of contract, and will continue to be published. No new rights, however, will be signed to any other publishing houses.
Genuine and Profound laid special stress on digital editions of Mo Yan's works, noting that no digital publisher or web portal is currently authorized to sell Mo Yan's ebooks.
During the course of the press conference it was also announced that the National Copyright Administration had established both a telephone hotline (13490) and an email address (email@example.com) where anyone could report observed violations of intellectual copyright.
Lastly, and most peculiar, Genuine and Profound announced that they had sole "foreign recommendation rights" (海外推荐权). When asked what that meant, exactly, Genuine and Profound CEO Walter Chan said they were authorized to "recommend" Mo Yan's books to foreign publishers, and foreign publishers interested in the books could come and talk to them. This could be dismissed as mere bluster, except rumor has it that Genuine and Profound has actually approached some international publishers about the foreign-language rights to their 20-volume set. There may be yet another contestant for the title of "Mo Yan's agent"…