The subject of the letter below is what Rand termed the “Banyai Case.” Shortly after the end of World War II, George and Tommy Banyai, without Rand’s permission, put on a French production of Night of January 16th. The lengthy dispute over royalties had already been going on for more than two years at the time of this letter to Pincus Berner. In 1949, Rand eventually sued George Banyai to recoup royalties. Rand and Berner caught him in various lies and trickery (Rand congratulated Berner “on the skill with which you pinned down the wriggling little liar”), but Banyai actually expanded productions of the play throughout Europe even while being sued for not paying royalties.
This letter was previously published only on the Ayn Rand Institute website.
April 3, 1948
Mr. Pincus Berner
Ernst, Cane & Berner
25 West 43rd Street
New York 18, N. Y.
Thank you for your letter of March 18.
I thought I had made it clear that I would not join the French Society of Authors under any circumstances whatever. So please let us omit this from our considerations of the case.
Do you not find a peculiar discrepancy in Banyai’s attitude? You say in your letter, “I can see no point in suing Banyai in a local court. We have no figures on which to predicate the sum due you from him.” You also state that Banyai reported that the French Society has refused to give any statement or computation of the royalties accruing to me to date. Does Banyai mean to imply that he or his brother have no copies of their accounts or bookkeeping statements and no record of how much money they deposited with the French Society in my name? Why did he have to ask the Society for that account? The Society does not owe it to me—he does. Do you propose that we let him get away with that? I think you should demand, not ask, but demand an accounting from him at once.
Besides, I sent you a copy of the letter from Tommy Banyai of January 15, 1948, in which he states that the amount of my royalties at present is approximately 500,000 francs.
As you know, there is a clause in my contract with George Banyai which states that any differences arising between us are to be settled according to the laws of American courts. Therefore, I believe it would be a mistake for me to give Banyai permission to sue the French Society in my name. Such an action would amount
Mr. Pincus Berner
April 3, 1948
to waiving my claim against Banyai and recognizing the jurisdiction of the French Society in this matter, which I do not recognize. My contract is with George Banyai, and my claim is against him. If he says that under French laws he is helpless against the French Society—my stand is that that is his problem, not mine, because our contract states specifically that I am not bound by French laws. Therefore, I think I must undertake a suit against him right now and in New York. It seems to me that the suit should be not merely for royalties, but for breach of contract and bad faith, and that the first demand we must make on him is to subpoena from him an accounting of the sums due me.
George Banyai has a great many activities and business connections in this country, so I believe we could attach whatever he owns or part of his salary to satisfy a judgment against him. It is my impression that he would not let matters go that far and that he would find a way to settle my claim. I don’t believe I mentioned to you that he was the representative of the French Society of Authors in Hollywood, so you can see what the situation really is.
I am not sure of the exact value of the franc by the rate that prevailed at the time my royalties became due; but as far as I can guess, the amount they owe me is probably somewhere between four and five thousand dollars. This is a sum which I believe can be collected from George Banyai in person right here.
On the grounds stated above, I would like you to institute a suit against George Banyai in New York and to ask for damages. Please let me know whether this can be done, what it involves and what would be the exact procedure to follow. Also please let me know whether you will undertake to handle it on a contingency basis or, if not, please tell me the exact sum you would charge me for handling this. You can realize why I cannot undertake this without advance knowledge of how much it will cost me.
With best regards,
The outcome of Rand’s fight with the Banyais is not known. Papers in the Ayn Rand Archives indicate that Banyai did send some back royalties to Rand, but the last mention of the lawsuit is in an August 31, 1949, letter to Berner in which she implies that a motion for summary judgment was unsuccessful. Then, in the 1950s, Rand refers to Banyai’s “fraud” regarding Scandinavian rights to the play and says that his actions were “more nefarious—if that is possible” than in the French “affair.”