The protagonists of the Ern Malley saga are dead - but Ern Malley lives. In literary circles, his light is undimmed. He has been read, studied and discussed in schools and universities throughout the years. The fascination is sustained - because it is believed that the poetry stands alone. The young Max's judgement has been vindicated again and again. Other literary hoaxes have occurred in ensuing years - but Ern Malley remains at the top of the tree - and his works continue to be published, purchased and analysed.
He has inspired writers, composers and performers. Dave Dallwitz, who was an Angry Penguins contributor, later wrote and recorded The Ern Malley Jazz Suite in his honor. Myriad academic papers have been written and even PhD theses. Michael Heyward wrote a major text. Theatre works have been contrived and presented. Readings of the poems and the court transcript take place in libraries and theatres.
In 2003, Booker Prize-winning author Peter Carey revived the Ern Malley story with his fictionalised account, "My Life as a Fake", a very elegant publication from Random House. Carey relates the story as told to an English literary editor by one of the hoaxers, found living in squalor and ignominy in Malaysia. Implicit in the telling is the writer's sympathy for the damage inflicted upon Harris, and his disdain for the hoaxers.
Reviews of "My Life as a Fake":
Now, after 59 quiet years, amid this refreshed interest in the Ern Malley affair, there has been a sudden challenge to the ownership of copyright for the Ern Malley poems from the Estates of the hoaxers.
Copyright to the Ern Malley poems was presented as a gift to the publishers by Ern's sister Ethel in the initial submission of the poems to Angry Penguins. In ensuing years, the hoaxers made no effort to reclaim this gift. In the 1960s, when Landsowne was re-publishing the Malley poems, hoaxer Harold Stewart wrote to his co-hoaxer, James McAuley, impishly suggesting that maybe they should have another go at Max Harris by calling for copyright. McAuley was not amused. He tersely responded that it would be an absurd can of legal worms and he wanted no part in it. He reminded his co-hoaxer that they had relinquished copyright when they refused to put their names on the work and made a gift of it to the publisher. It should stay there. Harold Stewart did not contest this and the case was closed.
Copyright remained with the victim of the hoax for, after all, had it not been for Max Harris, Ern Malley would not exist. Ern Malley's poetry was concocted specifically to target and humilate Harris. The hoaxers always insisted that it was "utterly devoid of literary merit as poetry" - just a grab-bag of plagiarised lines and snippets of "bad verse". Had Harris not fallen for the hoax, the Malley poems never would have seen the light of day.
Nor would Harris have been prosecuted, carried the notoriety of Ern Malley , championed the poems and kept his flame alight.
In 2003, the hoaxer Estates issued their challenge, asserting that they held a "position" by which they had always intended to claim the copyright when Max Harris died. He died in 1995.