French court allows "Les Miserables" sequel

PARIS (Reuters) - Modern-day sequels to Victor Hugo’s classic “Les Miserables” have been allowed after a French court threw out a suit from the 19th century master’s descendants, a lawyer for publishers Plon said on Friday.

After a years-long legal battle, the Paris appeals court ruled in favor of Plon, publishers of two novels based on “Les Miserables” by a modern-day author named Francois Ceresa, Plon’s lawyer Paul Lombard said.

“The court has dismissed the suit from the descendants of Victor Hugo and ordered them to pay 10,000 euros ($13,960) in damages and interest,” he told Reuters.

The ruling by the appeals court in Paris follows a claim by Pierre Hugo and other descendants against Plon and Ceresa, the author of two novels featuring popular characters like the abandoned waif Cosette or the student Marius.

That ruling was challenged by the publishers who said it contravened the principle of freedom of expression and the case made its way through the court system before reaching the final appeals court in Paris where it was heard last month.

Published in 1862, “Les Miserables” was an instant success and generations of French schoolchildren have grown up with characters like Cosette and Marius, the street urchin Gavroche or the convict-hero Jean Valjean.

The book has also formed the basis for several film versions as well as one of the most successful musicals of all time.

In 2001, a lower court found that two novels by Ceresa, “Cosette ou le temps des illusions” (Cosette or the time of illusions) and “Marius ou le Fugitif” (Marius or the Fugitive) constituted an offense against the moral rights of Victor Hugo.

“Not only did Plon fail to consult Mr Hugo but the publisher subsequently treated him off-handedly and refused any discussion,” the daily Le Figaro quoted Pierre Hugo’s lawyer Stephane Loisy as saying.

“Most of all, Mr Ceresa’s works completely twist the original,” he said.

The challenge was supported by the Societe des Gens de Lettres, an authors’ rights group set up in 1838 by Victor Hugo and peers like Honore de Balzac and Alexandre Dumas.

But Plon’s lawyers argued that there was no justification for hindering publication of the later books, pointing out that many previous adaptations of Hugo’s works also took liberties with the original text and Friday’s judgment backed them.

“The books can continue to appear freely, it’s a great success for us,” Lombard said.

Reporting by Clement Dessin and Laure Bretton; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Charles Dick