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Beloved Romanian writer out of print for 2 years due to copyright lawsuit back on bookshelves

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BUCHAREST, Romania - He is one of Romania's greatest writers, but his work couldn't be found in bookstores. Now, they are finally getting their place back on the shelf.

Virtually unknown outside Romania, novelist Mihail Sadoveanu is renowned in his home country for classics such as "The Hatchet" and "The Jderi Brothers," tales of ordinary folk beset by hardships and dramatic circumstances, read by Romanians for the more than 50 years since his hey-day in the 1960s.

But the works have been largely out-of-print and unavailable for the last two years following a long and complicated custody battle, complete with accusations of piracy and price-gouging. Critics have accused the copyright holder, Dan Herford, of taking the works hostage.

Herford's father was married to Sadoveanu's granddaughter and he administered the rights until his death in 2006. But Romania's copyright institute claimed it should have the rights and sued Smaranda Herford after her husband died. Dan Herford helped her battle the complicated case and after a five-year legal battle, Romania's High Court finally found in her favour. In 2011, she handed Herford the copyright.

The pan flute musician and teacher refused to allow publishing houses to print the writer's works, claiming they had pirated them in the ensuing years in disrespectful, cheap-looking copies. So people have purchased his works from second-hand bookshops, and students required to read the book borrowed their parents' dog-eared paperbacks and even illegally downloaded copies of "The Hatchet" from the Internet.

But this week, Sadoveanu's books began to reappear in shops. Herford, who lives in the Netherlands, has set up his own publishing house, which will exclusively print the books until they enter the public domain, 70 years after Sadoveanu's death.

Herford is unapologetic about the wait, insisting he had no choice.

"I was forced to resort to this radical solution because of the pirating," Herford said. He declined to name publishing houses he believed illegally published Sadoveanu, saying the lawsuit had settled the issue. He is considering licensing the books for electronic sale as soon as technical issues are resolved.

Sadoveanu has been criticized for his support for the Soviet Union and high-ranking positions he had in the communist apparatus. Though he is mandatory reading at school, his emphasis on justice and responsibility and lack of humour can be heavy-going.

Tania Florescu, 13, read "the Hatchet" this year said Monday she found it tough, but ultimately enjoyable. "He should be published by every publishing house."

At the Ion Creanga book store, a sales assistant opened a fresh box filled with copies of "The Hatchet" and recalled having to tell customers it wasn't available.

"I'm happy that we're finally able to sell Sadoveanu's books," Zaharina Petre said. "He is part of our legacy."

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