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Tenn. court awards book rights to caregiver

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KRISTIN M. HALL | October 9, 2008 03:54 PM EST | AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The woman who took care of science fiction and fantasy author Andre Norton in the final years of her life in Tennessee has been awarded the copyrights and royalties to most of her works.

In an opinion published this week, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's ruling that the author of the popular "Witch World" series intended that a longtime fan get those rights and royalties.

Norton, who died in 2005 in Murfreesboro, Tenn., wrote more than 130 books over a 70-year writing career and defied gender stereotypes by becoming the first woman to win major science fiction awards.

But a court battle over her estate ensued between caregiver Sue Stewart and Victor Horadam, a fan who contended he was better suited to care for Norton's literary legacy.

The judges ruled that Stewart would control copyrights to books published during Norton's life, but Horadam would retain royalties on works published after her death. Stewart also will get the royalties for reprints.

Norton's estate has been at a standstill for three years, preventing the release of some unpublished manuscripts, Stewart said Wednesday.

"I appreciate the fans' patience," Stewart said. "We're going to work very hard and very quickly to get some of her work back on the market."

Several of Norton's novels remain in print but Stewart said she wants to issue reprints that could attract new readers in the young adult market.

Norton began writing in the 1930s and was the first woman to win the Grand Master award from the Science Fiction Writers of America. An award named after her honors outstanding authors in young adult science fiction and fantasy.

Born Alice Mary Norton in Cleveland in 1912, she took up the pen name "Andre" because she thought it would appeal to the predominantly young, male audience for science fiction, adventure and fantasy novels.

The legal dispute arose over the wording of Norton's will, which divided her estate among co-authors, friends and Stewart.

Stewart was named beneficiary of the "residuary clause" _ all other property or money not explicitly assigned in the will.

But the will also said Norton's longtime fan, Horadam, was to get "the royalties from all posthumous publication of any of my works."

A judge in Rutherford County ruled in favor of Horadam, saying Norton used the terms royalties and copyrights interchangeably in her will and "posthumous publication" meant any works, including reprints. The judge said Horadam had greater appreciation for the literary works than the caretaker.

Horadam said previously that he believed Norton intended for him to manage the estate. He said on Thursday that the ruling was "disappointing" and he was still weighing his option to appeal.

The case has been returned to the trial court so that an independent administrator can be named to handle the remaining literary assets in the estate.

Horadam could appeal the ruling to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Stewart's attorney Dicken Kidwell said if no appeal is filed, the estate will be closed and Stewart will be able to move forward with publication plans.