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Parties debate federal jurisdiction in ‘Jack Ryan’ rights case

The dispute pits best-selling author Tom Clancy’s widow against lawyers for his estate. (File photo)

The dispute pits best-selling author Tom Clancy’s widow against lawyers for his estate. (File photo)

The parties debating the ownership rights to Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character are sparring over jurisdiction, with Alexandra Clancy, who filed the action in Baltimore City Circuit Court, arguing the defendants’ attempt to remove the case to federal court was improper.

The “Jack Ryan Entities,” which include companies owned by Clancy, his ex-wife and their adult children during his life, removed the case to U.S. District Court in November claiming that, because it involved copyright defenses, the matter contained a federal question.

But Alexandra Clancy argued in a filing last month the removal was not timely and improper because her lawsuit, which seeks a declaratory judgment that the estate is the sole owner of the character and entitled to profits from posthumous book deals, is about contract interpretation.

Clancy alleges J.W. Thompson Webb, the personal representative of the estate, “failed repeatedly to defend the Estate’s unique interest in Tom Clancy’s characters” by signing agreements distributing profits from the new books between the estate and the companies. Webb has not asserted any copyright defenses.

In a reply filed Friday, the defendants contend their counterclaims facially assert a federal claim by arguing they have the copyright to Jack Ryan as developed in the books written after “The Hunt for Red October.” (A 1988 arbitration settlement between Tom Clancy and his then publisher expressly acknowledged that he owned the characters from the book).

The case is Alexandra M. Clancy v. J.W. Thompson Webb et al., 1:17-cv-03371-ELH.

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