Monthly Archives: March 2011

Kate Sutherland

Weekly Roundup of News & Reviews, March 21-27, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

NPR this week reported on the decision of Maine’s new Republican governor to remove a mural from the State Department of Labor. The mural, by Judy Taylor, consists of 11-panels that “depict scenes from Maine’s labor history, including women working as shipbuilders during World War II, textile and woods workers and two strikes – one at a shoe factory in the 1930s, and the other at the International Paper Mill in 1980s.” The Governor asserts that it presents a one-sided view, making some citizens feel unwelcome in state buildings, but union activists regard the removal of the mural as ” a thumb in the eye to Maine’s working people,” particularly as it comes in tandem with the launch of “a contest to rename eight conference rooms that are currently named after icons, activists and historical figures in the Labor Movement, people such as farm worker and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, and Frances Perkins, a U.S. Secretary of Labor who was the first female cabinet member.” (NPR, NYT, Maine Sunday Telegram, Christian Science Monitor)

The art and art law worlds were abuzz this week over a U.S. District Court ruling in favour of photographer Patrick Cariou in his copyright infringement suit against Richard Prince and the Gagosian Gallery. Cariou filed the suit over Prince’s appropriation of photos from his book Yes, Rasta for use in a series of paintings. Prince admitted to using at least 41 of Cariou’s photos but claimed fair use, arguing that he had transformed them rather than creating derivative images. The judge was not convinced, stating that that “there is vanishingly little, if any, transformative element.” Ultimately, she granted Cariou’s motion for summary judgment. The response of commentators has been mixed. Some consider the judgment a win for originality and hence for art. Others are concerned that it will have grave consequences for appropriation art and for fair use more generally. For more details on the case, and analysis of and commentary on the judgment and the issues that it raises, see A Photo Editor, the NYT, The Art Newspaper, Clancco, Ruling Imagination, and The Art Law Blog.

A preview of a new book by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, Representing Justice: The Creation and Fragility of Courts in Democracies, appears in the Guardian, along with a slide show of images from it. Resnick and Curtis write: “The 220 images of our book map the relationship between courts and democracy and serve as reminders that courts, as the egalitarian institutions we know today, are relatively recent inventions. While venerable, they are at present also vulnerable.”

The big news in the book world this week was a U.S. federal court decision rejecting the proposed Google books settlement. The New York Times reports: “Judge Chin acknowledged that ‘the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many,’ but said that the proposed agreement was ‘not fair, adequate and reasonable.’” He rejected the settlement on the basis of “copyright, antitrust and other concerns,” stating that “it would have granted Google a ‘de facto monopoly’ and the right to profit from books without the permission of copyright owners.” Here again, reactions are mixed. Some consider the decision a victory for authors while others worry about the fate of orphaned works and how any ambitious digital library project might now proceed. The judge left the door open for a revised settlement, but many believe that the sort of revamping of copyright that the settlement sought to achieve ought to be the preserve of democratic debate and legislation rather than negotiation between private parties. (NYT, The Laboratorium, The Bookseller, Guardian, Globe & Mail)

New York’s Court of Appeals this week ruled that it was appropriate for Penguin to bring a copyright infringement suit in New York where its business is located against Oregon nonprofit American Buddha. The court was not persuaded by the argument that the injury should be deemed to have occurred elsewhere since the alleged uploading of the Penguin books had occurred in Oregon and Arizona. The court concluded: “The role of the Internet in cases alleging the uploading of copyrighted books distinguishes them from traditional commercial torts cases where courts have generally linked the injury to the place where sales or customers are lost. The location of the infringement in online cases is of little import inasmuch as the primary aim of the infringer is to make the works available to anyone with access to an Internet connection, including computer users in New York.” (Courthouse News, Bloomberg Businessweek, Law360)

The estate of Adrian Jacobs, author of Willy the Wizard, has been ordered to pay £1.5 million into court as security for costs before its plagiarism case against J.K. Rowling can continue through the UK courts. Justice David Kitchen has set this condition in light of his earlier determination that it is “improbable” that the case will succeed. Rowling has dismissed the claim that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was copied from Jacobs’ book “as ‘not only unfounded but absurd’, and said she had never even seen the book until the claim was launched in 2004.” (Daily Mail, The Bookseller)

The Coca-Cola Case, a documentary film that “chronicles a pair of lawsuits launched against the soft drink giant by the United Steel Workers of America and the International Labour Rights Fund in 2001 and 2006 on behalf of a Colombian union,” has been praised as “a vehicle for a global movement for corporate accountability and union rights.” But Coca-Cola has attempted to stop recent screenings, alleging the film to be defamatory. (The Tyee)

Heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman, are returning to court to appeal a limited grant of rights that has left some confusion over who owns aspects of the character’s mythology, the heirs or Warner Brothers. This is only the latest stage in a long-standing legal battle between the parties that has involved a number of lawsuits. (THR, Esq.)

Screenwriter Jake Mandeville-Anthony has filed a copyright infringement suit against Disney/Pixar in U.S. District Court claiming that animated film Cars and its soon-to-be-released sequel are based on characters that he created. (THR, Esq.)

It has been announced that a conference on “Bob Dylan and the Law,” co-sponsored by the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Touro Law School, and the Fordham Urban Law Journal, is to be held at Fordham Law School on the weekend of April 4-5, 2011. (Law & Humanities Blog)

Adam Kirsch describes Marjorie Garber’s new book The Use and Abuse of Literature as “a leisurely and learned ramble through dozens, if not hundreds, of texts and topics” and finds justification for the seeming randomness of her method in “the way it enacts her central thesis: that literature is not so much a subject as an activity.” Kirsch disagrees with Garber on some fundamental points, but he makes the book sound irresistible to me when he posits an answer to the question implied in Garber’s title: “Paradoxically, she suggests that we abuse literature whenever we try to use it, and we use it properly only when we honor its uselessness. To ask whether a work of literature is ‘good for you’ or ‘bad for you,’ Garber writes in her introduction, is ‘judgmental and moral’; such moral effects ‘are incidental and accidental byproducts of literature, not literary qualities.’” Most intriguing. (Boston Globe)

There’s a marvelous essay by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) in the NYRB this week about his love of books. It opens with these tantalizing sentences: “The books that I remember best are the ones I stole in Mexico City, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, and the ones I bought in Chile when I was twenty, during the first few months of the coup.” The essay is a preview of a collection of Bolaño’s non-fiction, translated by Natasha Wimmer, that is due to be published by New Directions at the end of May.

Michael Brodeur interviewed poet Kevin Young in the Boston Globe this week about his latest book, Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, described as “a sprawling account of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad and its aftermath, told through a variety of perspectives and source materials, from letters the rebels wrote while in jail, to the imagined response of an interpreter (a former slave himself) who was brought in to question them.”

Karen Campbell writes of So Much Pretty, a debut novel by Cara Hoffman “based on a real case that the author encountered during her stint as a police beat reporter,” that it “effectively frames a compelling murder mystery with provocative, troubling issues, exploring adolescent violence, the victimization of women, revenge, and societal pressure to favor the good of the community over the rights of the individual. “ (Boston Globe)

This month Vintage Crime will reissue three mystery novels that Gore Vidal wrote in the 1950s and published under the pseudonym Edgar Box. In the Boston Globe, Diane White writes of them: “The Box novels are minor works in the career of a writer who would become a versatile and prolific man of letters, but Vidal’s style — witty, literate, mischievous — is unmistakable.” Vidal claimed Agatha Christie as his primary influence for these efforts but, for him, according to White, “mystery takes a back seat to satire.”

The release of Henning Mankell’s latest and final Inspector Wallander novel, The Troubled Man (translated by Laurie Thompson) has garnered much press this week, including interviews with Mankell in the Telegraph and the Guardian, an excerpt from the novel in the Telegraph, and reviews in the Independent, the NYT, and Euro Crime. Finally, there’s an entertaining piece in the Telegraph in which Judith Flanders sets Wallander’s exit in the context of those of other famous fictional detectives such as Sherlock Holmes.

Kate Sutherland

The Femmes Fatales of Film Noir

Earlier this week, I attended a most interesting lecture delivered by Kevin Courrier at the Revue Cinema on the femmes fatales of film noir. I was expecting to see and hear lots about my favourites from the classic noirs of the 1940s and 50s. But though Courrier made reference to them, he spent more time tracing their origins in 1920s and 30s European and pre-Code Hollywood films, and then documenting their survival beyond the classic period and into contemporary cinema. I suspect that Courrier took this tack because the emphasis of his previous lectures was on the classic period⎯this week’s lecture, though the first I’d attended, was the third in a five-part series on film noir. In any event, this before-and-after focus proved very thought-provoking, causing me to reevaluate my perceptions of the more contemporary films with which I was familiar, and introducing me to a number of early films that I hadn’t encountered before.

Although I’d seen some of the more recent films from which Courrier showed clips, I’d never really thought of them as noirs. This made me realize that my definition of noir in fiction is much broader than it is in film. With the former, I’m attentive to theme and character as well as style, whereas with film, for me, it’s all about how it looks. If it’s not gritty black and white with plenty of hats and cigarettes, noir doesn’t even occur to me. I recognize that this is a ridiculously narrow view, and I’m glad to have been jolted out of it.

With respect to the early films⎯the silent films and the pre-Code talkies⎯they were mostly new to me. I was intrigued to see demonstrated the extent to which the aesthetic of film noir was inspired by German Expressionist film, and the psychoanalytic themes by European film more broadly. And I was fascinated by the powerfully sexual and independent women featured in them and in the pre-Code Hollywood films. Courrier put forward a convincing case that the femmes fatales of film noir wouldn’t have come into being without those precursors, but that they were also, perhaps paradoxically, a product of censorship. The adoption of the Hays Code in the U.S., which became obligatory and was rigidly enforced as of 1934, meant that women on film could not thereafter be depicted enjoying the same sexual freedoms as before. But the ingenuity required to communicate obliquely what could no longer be presented openly pushed filmmakers to new heights of creativity such that sublimation became a hallmark of noir.

I came away from the lecture keen to further explore the pre-Code era and the transition to noir, armed with a long list of films with which to begin. For your weekend viewing pleasure, I’ve posted clips from some of those films below.

Heretofore, my acquaintance with the work of German filmmaker F.W. Murnau was limited to his masterful Nosferatu (I’m plotting a future post on the copyright litigation that that film provoked between Murnau and the widow of Bram Stoker). Now I can add his 1927 film Sunrise to my list. Here’s a famous scene from it featuring Margaret Livingstone as a mesmerizing femme fatale, along with one of the best depictions ever of the evil temptations of big city life:

This clip from a documentary on sexuality and censorship in early cinema not only provides glimpses of actress Louise Brooks in her most famous role as Lulu in the 1929 German film Pandora’s Box, but also a bit of context on the film industry of the time in the U.S. and Europe, and a strong sense that Brooks was as fascinating a character off screen as on:

Barbara Stanwyk is, of course, a familiar face to any fan of film noir from her starring roles in such classics as Double Indemnity. But her career began pre-Code, and her performance in the 1933 film Baby Face is, according to Courrier, the gateway that hooks many viewers on pre-Code Hollywood films. So perhaps this is the one with which to begin:

Happy viewing!

Kate Sutherland

The Very Brief Legal Career of Robert Louis Stevenson

Last month, I wrote of lawyer-writers who successfully pursued simultaneous legal and literary careers. Robert Louis Stevenson was not one of them. Indeed, despite years of legal study at the University of Edinburgh, admittance as an advocate after passing his Scots Bar examinations “with credit,” and the above bewigged photograph (taken to please his mother), I don’t think that Stevenson can rightfully be claimed for the law at all.

Law wasn’t even his second choice after literature, but his second second choice. He came from a famous family of engineers, known as the Lighthouse Stevensons, and he began in that field. But, according to biographer Claire Harman, after “four years studying at the university” and “three summers on the works,” including stints “in a carpenter’s shop, a foundry and a timberyard,” Stevenson “still couldn’t tell one kind of wood from another or make the most basic calculations.” Even his father Thomas, who so dearly wished it otherwise, had to concede that Stevenson wasn’t cut out for the family business. That is not to say, however, that he was prepared to endorse a literary career for his son.

Stevenson’s cousin Etta tells the story thus:

I happened to be in the house when Lou told his father he did not want to continue to be a civil engineer. This was a great blow and a terrible disappointment to Uncle Tom, as for generations the Stevensons had all been very clever civil engineers; and already Lou had gained medals for certain inventions of his in connection with lighthouses. And Uncle Tom was more disappointed still when Lou declared that he wanted to go in for a literary life, as Uncle Tom thought he would make nothing at that⎯in fact that it was just a sort of excuse for leading a lazy life! Eventually it was well talked over, and Uncle Tom said that if he agreed to read for the Bar in order to become an advocate, after passing the examination, if he still persisted in wishing to go in for literature, he would not prevent it, for then he would have a good sound profession at his back.

Alas, Stevenson was as indifferent a student of law as he had been of engineering. His friend Charles Guthrie (later Lord Guthrie) recalled, “we did not look for Louis at law lectures, except when the weather was bad.” Harman elaborates: “A notebook that survives from his law studies is peppered with caricatures and doodles, and the few notes there are on Roman citizenship segue with comical readiness into a much more engaging daydream containing lines of a later poem.” Andrew Murray (later Lord Dunedin), stated bluntly that, although he and Stevenson were “very good friends,” they “did not really see much of each other” even as fellow law students, for: “I was interested in my profession⎯a profession which he frankly cared nothing about.”

If, in the words of another friend, John Geddie, Stevenson paid only “desultory attention” in his law classes, he did buckle down to study for the Bar examinations. But this study awakened no new interest in the subject, and it interfered with the work that really mattered to him. In a letter to Fanny Sitwell (later his wife), dated April 1875, he lamented: “I had no time to write, and, as it is, am strangely incapable. […] I have been reading such lots of law, and it seems to take away the power of writing from me. From morning to night, so often as I have a spare moment, I am in the embrace of a law book – barren embraces.”

Stevenson passed the examinations and was admitted to the Bar on July 14th, 1875. For a time thereafter, as was the custom, he “walk[ed] about the Parliament House five forenoons a week, in wig and gown,” seeking work from solicitors with cases before the Courts. He was not altogether unsuccessful in this endeavour. Guthrie recounted: “I do indeed remember one morning in the Parliament House, when he came dancing up to me waving a bundle of legal papers in great glee: ‘Guthrie, that simpleton So-and-so has actually sent me a case! Now I have tasted blood, idle fellows like you will see what I can do!'” But he was not offered many briefs, and he accepted even fewer. Guthrie made reference to only “four complimentary pieces of employment [Stevenson] is said to have received, the fees for which did not run into two figures.”

Stevenson wrote to Fanny that he found it “a great pleasure to sit and hear cases argued or advised,” but nevertheless bemoaned the fact that: “I lose all my forenoons at Court!” Before long, he gave up the charade and devoted himself full time to writing. The brass nameplate engraved “R.L. Stevenson, Advocate” that his parents had affixed to the door of their home at 17 Heriot Row remained, but Stevenson no longer walked the halls of Parliament House in wig and gown. In fact, he soon quitted Edinburgh, and Scotland, altogether.

Stevenson “had no natural taste for the law,” Guthrie concluded. Nor, it seems to have been generally agreed among his legal friends, did he have any particular talent for it. So Stevenson’s defection was no great loss to the law. But it was a great gain to literature. And his keen readers, among whom I count myself, can be grateful that, in the end, he chose a literary life.

Sources:

Sidney Colvin, ed., The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (1900).

Lord Guthrie, Robert Louis Stevenson: Some Personal Recollections (1920).

Claire Harman, Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography (2005).

Rosaline Massin, ed., I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson (1922).

* The photos of Robert Louis Stevenson as an advocate, and of his doodles in lieu of note-taking (albeit from his engineering rather than his law school days) are from the digital collection of the National Library of Scotland. The photo of 17 Heriot Row is one I took myself the last time I followed Stevenson’s footsteps round Edinburgh.

Kate Sutherland

Weekly Roundup of News & Reviews, March 14-20, 2011

It’s too late to be a weekend roundup. But I figure better late than never! Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week.

A group comprised of more than 130 artists, curators, writers, and others are calling for a boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi following reports by Human Rights Watch that document exploitation of foreign migrant workers in the UAE. The group is “demanding that the Guggenheim Foundation and its Abu Dhabi partner take immediate and meaningful steps to safeguard the rights of the workers constructing the new branch museum on Saadiyat Island.” Walid Raad, an organizer of the boycott, said: “Artists should not be asked to exhibit their work in buildings built on the backs of exploited workers. Those working with bricks and mortar deserve the same kind of respect as those working with cameras and brushes.” For more information, click here. (Clancco, NYT) [UPDATE: The Guggenheim Foundation responds.]

Last Monday, the UK government released a draft bill that would introduce dramatic reforms to the libel law of England and Wales, including a new public interest defense, a requirement that claimants demonstrate substantial harm, measures to combat libel tourism, and removal of the presumption in favour of jury trials (Guardian). The bill was welcomed as a step in the right direction by the Publishers Association and the Society of Authors, among others (The Bookseller). But many commentators, including spokespersons for the Libel Reform Campaign that has been so instrumental in the push for reform, say that the bill does not go far enough (Press Gazette). For informative and thought-provoking analysis and criticism of the proposed bill, see the New Statesman, Inforrm’s Blog, Lex Ferenda, cearta.ie, the Free Speech Blog, and The Trial Warrior Blog.

The student author of a sexually explicit short story, and the editor of the university newspaper that published it, were acquitted last week by a Maltese court of offending public morals. The Times of Malta reports that the presiding Magistrate found that the story was neither obscene nor pornographic “and that the police had failed to explain how public morality, which changed over time, had been breached.” The trial sparked “heated public debate about the limits of expression and the boundaries between literature and pornography.” According to Index on Censorship: “The court’s decision is a boost for all writers and artists in Malta, many of whom are part of the “Front against Censorship” (FaC) — a protest movement campaigning to liberalise Malta’s censorship laws.” (Times of Malta, Index on Censorship)

Recent weeks brought a flurry of legal challenges to library closures in the UK. But now the government has announced a review of the multitude of statutory obligations with which local authorities are required to comply with a view to doing away with “burdensome” ones. And among those under review is the sole legal grounding for the aforementioned challenges, the duty of local authorities to provide “a comprehensive and efficient library service under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.” Library campaigners are understandably concerned by this development. (Guardian).

A little over a week ago, it was reported that the legal battle between Rick Norsigian and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust over negatives alleged to be lost Adams’ work had escalated; now comes the news that the dispute has been settled. The precise terms of the settlement are confidential, but the parties indicated in a statement that Norsigian cannot use Ansel Adams name when selling prints from the negatives and that such sales can only continue “subject to a disclaimer approved by the Trust.” The Los Angeles Times reports that Norsigian’s asking price for prints has declined accordingly. (NYT, The Art Law Blog, LA Times)

Scott McLemee has interviewed Susie Linfield about her book The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence, a finalist in criticism for the National Book Critics Circle awards, in which, he says, it is apparent that she “holds fast to Twain’s optimism about the power of images of suffering to create enormous moral and political effects.” (Inside Higher Ed)

Brian True-May, producer of British crime drama Midsomer Murders, was suspended from his job last week pending an inquiry after he stated in an interview: “We just don’t have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn’t be the English village with them…. We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.” Critics of True-May’s comments have pointed out that his vision of an all-white rural England is very much at odds with contemporary reality. The series is already on the cusp of great change with the retirement of John Nettles, who played Inspector Tom Barnaby for 16 years, and the introduction of a new star, Neil Dudgeon, playing Tom’s cousin John Barnaby, also conveniently a police detective. It remains to be seen whether True-May’s comments and the ensuing outcry will provoke greater changes still. (Guardian, BBC, Racialicious)

In The Anatomy of a Moment, novelist Javier Cercas turns to non-fiction to explore the 1982 siege of the Spanish parliament. Anthony Cummins writes of the book, translated from Spanish to English by Anne McLean, that “its rigour and intensity are taxing” but that it is “a brilliant study of political conduct, which is well worth the effort required.” (Telegraph)

Alison Flood describes The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris, the first installment in a new mystery series featuring “Douglas Brodie, a policeman turned soldier turned reporter,” as “deft, disturbing and as thoroughly grimy as its 1946 Glasgow setting.” (The Observer)

In a review of Kate Atkinson’s fourth Jackson Brodie novel, Started Early, Took My Dog, Laura Miller writes of the series: “Each one of these books, including this latest, is a delight: an intricate construction that assembles itself before the reader’s eyes, populated by idiosyncratic, multidimensional characters and written with shrewd, mordant grace.” (Salon)

The English translation of Henning Mankell’s latest, and he says his last, Inspector Wallander novel, The Troubled Man, is due out later this month. According to James Urquhart, it provides a worthy conclusion to “the hugely absorbing Wallander casefile.” (Independent)

Kate Sutherland

Poetry & Law: M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!



Poetry and law may seem to some as incommensurable as dancing and architecture. Not so, according to M. NourbeSe Philip: “Law and poetry both share an inexorable concern with language⎯the “right” use of the “right” words, phrases, or even marks of punctuation; precision of expression is the goal shared by both.” But language may be used to very different ends in each realm: “The law uses language as a tool for ordering; in the instant case, however, I want poetry to disassemble the ordered, to create disorder and mayhem so as to release the story that cannot be told, but which, through not-telling, will tell itself.”

The story that cannot be told, the subject of Philip’s most recent collection of poems, is that of the Zong massacre. In September 1781, the slave ship Zong set sail from the east coast of Africa bound for Jamaica under the stewardship of Captain Luke Collingwood. The “cargo” consisted of 470 Africans. The voyage should have taken six to nine weeks but, due to navigational errors, stretched into four months. By the end of November, sixty Africans had died “for want of water for sustenance,” and forty more had thrown themselves into the sea “through thirst and frenzy thereby occasioned.” A further 150 Africans were then flung into the sea to their deaths on the orders of the Captain who believed that if they died on board by “natural causes,” the owners would have to bear the loss, whereas if they died by drowning, the loss would be covered by the owners’ insurance policy as attributable to “the perils of the sea.”

Back home in England, a famous case resulted: Gregson v. Gilbert. It was not a murder trial, since the Africans who had been killed were regarded as chattels not as human beings, but rather a legal dispute that turned on the finer points of insurance law. The insurers refused to pay the owners’ claim, and the owners challenged that refusal in court. The owners won in the initial trial, but the jury’s decision was overturned on appeal by the Court of King’s Bench.

Philip describes that King’s Bench decision, the only part of the litigation to make its way into the law reports, as “the tombstone, the one public marker of the murder of those Africans on board the Zong,” and she opts to limit herself to that text, using it as “a word store” for the composition of her book-length sequence of poems. She literally deconstructs the decision, pulling apart the words with which it is composed, then rearranging them to construct her own text. Through the alchemy of poetry, she also thereby reconstructs the African passengers, so present aboard the ship, yet peculiarly absent from the legal decision. “In Zong!,” Philip writes, “the African, transformed into a thing by the law, is re-transformed, miraculously, back into human.”

These are poems in which the placement of the words on the page is as important as the meaning that those words convey. In the early poems, the words are spread thinly across the page, the spaces making visible the absence of African bodies and voices. But as the sequence continues, the poems become denser and denser, the words tumbling over one another, sometimes scoring one another out. The effect is disorienting, disturbing, and, ultimately, extremely powerful.

I recommend reading the book at least twice, the first time approaching the poems fresh, taking them on their own terms. Then again after having read the material appended at the end (Philip’s essay on the writing of the book, from which I’ve quoted above, and a copy of the Gregson v. Gilbert decision) to more fully appreciate how Philip has illuminated injustice by making poetry out of law.

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, March 7-13, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

Art collector Robert Wylde has filed suit against the Gagosian Gallery in U.S. federal court for selling him a painting, Mark Tansey’s The Innocent Eye Test (reproduced above), that was partially owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wylde claims that Gagosian neglected to tell him when making the sale in 2009 that the Met, “where the work had once been on display, already owned 31 percent of it and had been promised by its longtime owners that the museum would eventually get the whole thing.” Gagosian has issued a statement asserting that it sold the painting in good faith, not knowing that the seller did not have clear title, and indicating that it will “vigorously defend itself.” (NYT)

The Art Newspaper reports that the legal battle between Rick Norsigian and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust over negatives alleged to be lost Adams’ work has escalated. The story began a decade ago when Norsigian stumbled upon and purchased the cache of negatives at a garage sale. Norsigian has not had the negatives authenticated via forensic testing, but nevertheless, last year, began offering for sale prints and posters billed as “Ansel Adams’ Lost Negatives.” The Trust, which has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute Adams’ images and to use his name, sued Norsigian for trademark infringement. Now, Norsigian “has launched a counter-suit, alleging slander, defamation, unfair competition, trade libel, civil conspiracy and wrongful interference with a prospective economic advantage.” In particular, Norsigian takes issue with comments made by the managing director of the Trust on CNN which cast aspersions on Norsigian and his authentication efforts. Further, Norsigian alleges that the Trust has pressured The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona to discredit his claims thereby interfering with his economic activities. The Trust continues to express doubt that the negatives are the work of Ansel Adams, and asserts the necessity of protecting his legacy. (The Art Newspaper)

Performance artist Marina Abramovic has won a copyright infringement suit against filmmaker Pierre Coulibeuf and Regards Productions. The superior court in Paris has ordered the defendants to pay Abramovic €75,000 for infringement of her rights and “for damage [to] the integrity of her work.” Further, the court has ruled Abramovic to be co-author of the contested films. (Clancco, The Art Newspaper)

According to the Guardian, the justices of the UK Supreme Court are this week “busying themselves with a case consisting of the heady combination of Star Wars, stormtroopers’ protective millinery, clay modelling and international copyright enforcement.” The case is the culmination of a longstanding dispute between George Lucas and Andrew Ainsworth, who produced the final 3D version of the helmet worn by stormtroopers in the first Star Wars film, and who subsequently made and sold copies. At issue is “whether or not it is a ‘sculpture’ for the purposes of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,” and, further, whether “a claim for infringement of a US copyright [is] justiciable, and indeed enforceable, by an English court.” (Guardian)

Five soldiers have appealed their defamation suit against Mohammed Bakri, director of the documentary film Jenin, Jenin, to the Israeli Supreme Court. They allege that the film portrays them as war criminals. The lower court ruled that the film does defame Israeli soldiers as a group, but that no reasonable person would interpret the defamation as being directed at the plaintiffs, who neither appear nor are mentioned in the film, as individuals. Supporters of Bakri allege political persecution, noting that the former Attorney General has declared his support for the plaintiffs and joined their appeal. (Haaretz)

In an open letter to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, archaeologists have called for the return of police to Egypt’s archaeological sites. They assert that “following the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last month, a new unprecedented wave of looting and vandalism took place at various sites,” and urge immediate action to protect Egypt’s heritage. (Discovery News)

Publishers Weekly reports that the U.S. Supreme Court “this week granted a writ of certiorari in a case, Golan v. Holder, that questions the constitutionality of a federal statute that restored copyright protection to thousands of foreign works, including symphonies by Shostakovich and Stravinsky, books by Virginia Woolf, artwork by Picasso, and films by Fellini and Hitchcock.” The statute in question is a 1994 amendment to the Copyright Act designed “to implement intellectual property treaties.” The challenge was mounted by “a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, publishers, film archivists and motion picture distributors who have relied on artistic works in the public domain for their livelihoods” and who argue that the amendment infringes their free speech rights. (Publishers Weekly, SCOTUS Blog, Wired)

Manju Kapur’s latest novel Custody is described in the Independent as a book “about the lives, loves and losses of wealthy, urban, middle-class Indians” in 1990s Dehli. But, Kapur says in an interview, it’s also “about child custody and the legal system. You can’t live in India and not be extremely furious about the legal system.” (The Independent)

Michael Eaude writes of Richard Zimler’s, The Warsaw Anagrams, a novel set in 1940-41 and featuring as narrator “a distinguished elderly psychoanalyst [who] has to leave his comfortable flat and move into the Warsaw Ghetto,” that it “is both a fast-moving, very readable mystery novel and a rich, serious book, in which Zimler makes us face the worst and pays tribute to those who died in the Holocaust.” (The Independent)

In a spotlight in the Telegraph, Gerard O’Donovan names his six favourite contemporary Irish crime novels⎯including on his list one of my own favourites, Tana French’s In the Woods⎯, and Val McDermid theorizes the enormous popularity of the genre in Ireland now.

In his classic crime column this week, Barry Turner highlights Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs. Bradley mysteries, and Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn series. I have long been a fan of the former, and am keen to check out the latter. (Daily Mail)

Douglas Star’s The Killer of Little Shepherds “charts the gruesome crimes of a man dubbed ‘the French Ripper’, Joseph Vacher, who murdered, mutilated and sexually assaulted 11 people” in 1890s France and, reviewer Rebecca Armstrong tells us, it is “more than a true-crime blockbuster with a historical edge; it is an account of the dramatic birth of forensic science, and a memorial not to a serial killer but to the pioneering men who caught him.” Armstrong concludes: “Star has created a book with every bit as much tension as a thriller, as much detail as a meticulous police procedural, and a court-room drama that’s up there with the best.” (The Independent)

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 28-March 6, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

In the latest stage of a drawn-out court battle over ownership of manuscripts that Franz Kafka entrusted to his friend Max Brod, an inventory of the long hidden archive has been filed, but it is not yet clear whether it includes unknown work. The battle is between Israel’s National Library, and sisters Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler who acquired the manuscripts from their mother Esther Hoffe, Brod’s longtime secretary to whom much of his estate passed after his death in 1968. For a full background on the case and the many interesting issues it raises, see Elif Batuman’s fascinating and exhaustive account, current up to September, in the New York Times. (Reuters, Haaretz)

According to the International Publishers Association, books that had been banned by the recently ousted regime of Ben Ali are returning to bookstore shelves in Tunisia. And anecdotal reports from Egypt suggest that, similarly, “once suppressed titles [are] appearing for impromptu sale on street corners and newspaper kiosks” there. (Guardian)

Another week brings more legal challenges to proposed library closures in the UK, including one by Campaign for the Book, a pro-library campaign group headed by author Alan Gibbons, which involves a national challenge to the culture secretary’s response to library closures “in the light of his duty under the 1964 Public Libraries Act.” (Guardian)

The Guardian reports that a number of publishing houses, primarily in France, were subjected to early morning raids this week in connection with a European commission investigation into ebook price fixing. The commission released a statement indicating that it “has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU anti-trust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices.” (Guardian)

The owner of now defunct publishing company New Century has been ordered by an Indiana court to pay a substantial sum in fines and restitution to authors whose promised books were never produced. (Indianapolis Star)

After an appeal hearing last week in Missouri, judges of the Eighth Circuit are considering whether or not Warner Brothers’ copyright in the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie was infringed by a t-shirt company’s use of images of the characters. Though the images came from publicity posters, they were in the public domain because they were distributed prior to registration of copyright. The court below nevertheless gave judgment in favour of Warner Brothers on the basis that, beyond the actual images, the t-shirt company was exploiting identifiable and distinctive characteristics of the characters developed in the movie that were entitled to copyright protection such as “Dorothy’s inherent wisdom coupled with her Midwestern farm girl innocence” and “the apparent inconsistencies of Scarecrow, (without a brain vs. wisdom and leader), Tin Man (without a heart vs. compassion and tenderness) and Cowardly Lion, (without courage vs. bravery and chivalrousness).” A major difficulty with this analysis, as pointed out by Dennis Crouch in a recent post on Patently-O, is that “the particular identifiable traits of the characters identified here (apart from the portraying actors) were all derived directly from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 Wonderful Wizard of Oz novel that is now out of copyright.” It will be most interesting to see what the appeal court concludes. (Patently-O, THR, Esq.)

In the culmination of a case that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, CBS has succeeded in having a defamation suit against it struck out under California’s anti-SLAPP law as an infringement of its free speech rights. The action was brought by a couple who alleged that a pair of unsavoury characters in a CSI episode were a thinly-veiled, highly defamatory portrait of them. The characters on the episode as finally aired had the same first names and occupations as the plaintiffs, but a different though similar last name. But the scriptwriter, who was acquainted with the plaintiffs through an unsuccessful real estate deal, had initially used their full names in the script, and through leaks, their full names had been linked with the characters in online plot synopses. Nevertheless, the appeal court found that the court below had erred in refusing CBS’s anti-SLAPP motion. According to THR, Esq, Justice Nora Manella wrote that “the creative process must be unfettered, and even though Goldfinger [the scriptwriter] didn’t need to use real names as placeholders for guest characters, it would be imprudent to place legal pitfalls that disrupt a writer at work.” (THR, Esq., Metropolitan News-Enterprise)

A court case which many asserted would break new ground in testing the application of defamation law to Twitter in the U.S. is not to be. Hole singer Courtney Love is reported to have settled the suit brought against her by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir over an allegedly defamatory Twitter rant for $430,000. (THR, Esq., Rolling Stone)

An archaeology professor from Loyola University in Chicago last week plead guilty “to violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, admitting to removing 17 artifacts, including arrowheads, from public lands on two field trips to New Mexico.” He has agreed to return the artifacts and to assist the Bureau of Land Management with an investigation into a large-scale scheme to plunder New Mexico archaeological sites. (Chicago Tribune)

Barry Forshaw lauds Leif Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, the first book in a trilogy which has as its central focus the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, as “an intricately detailed crime narrative” and also “a powerful state-of-the-nation novel.” He concludes: “Those who feel that crime fiction can tackle truly serious issues should pay attention to Persson’s magnum opus. They may tussle with the 500-odd pages, but they will end up hungry for later volumes of this ambitious trilogy.” (The Independent)

In a New York Times review titled “CSI: Georgian England,” Jason Goodwin offers this tantalizing summary of Imogen Robertson’s first novel, Instruments of Darkness: “It’s a sensitive melodrama, investing almost every character with a dark and sometimes unsavory past, its plot filled with signet rings, wills, adventuresses, concealed letters and dissection, all set against the pleasantly unpleasant background of the Gordon Riots, which prodded a mob of Protestant Londoners into an anti-Catholic frenzy. The climax, as might be expected, involves a chase across the ravaged city to ensure that justice is done to the wronged and that the wrongdoers get their comeuppance.” (NYT)

Mary Horlock’s The Book of Lies begins in 1985 on Guernsey Island, but reaches back to the Channel Islands’ WWII history of German occupation. Christian House praises the novel for dissecting “the legacy of this extraordinary time […] with precision and empathy.” He notes the unconventional means by which the tale is told, and ultimately describes the debut author’s achievement thus: “What is exceptional about this novel is the skilled manner in which Horlock records the domino-topple of such mistakes from one generation to another, a terrible inheritance in which yesterday’s conflicts undermine today’s peace.” I will definitely be snapping up a copy of this one. (The Independent)

Kate Sutherland

A Foray into Italian Crime Fiction: Gianrico Carofiglio’s Involuntary Witness


A couple of months ago, when I tweeted a link to an article in the Observer that heralded “a new wave of Italian crime writers,” I quickly received a flurry of replies insisting that, of the writers mentioned therein, Gianrico Carofiglio was the one whose work I must sample without delay. One of my correspondents went so far as to dub Guido Guerrieri, the character at the centre of Carofiglio’s series of legal thrillers, “an Italian Philip Marlowe.”

Intrigued as I was by this description, it initially struck me as unlikely, given how thoroughly a product of 1930s and 40s Los Angeles Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe seems to me to be. But even if Marlowe is rooted in his time and place, noir certainly travels. The success of Akashic Books’ marvelous noir anthologies which serve up hardboiled crime stories from every corner of the globe amply demonstrates that point. It was undoubtedly the noir quality of Carofiglio’s books which my correspondent was lauding and, having now read Involuntary Witness, the first book featuring world-weary criminal defense lawyer Guido Guerrieri, I can echo the recommendation of him as a most intriguing noir antihero.

At the beginning of the book, Guerrieri’s wife leaves him and, despite the fact that he hadn’t seemed particularly invested in his marriage, this provokes something of a breakdown. It’s an existential crisis. Guerrieri hasn’t lost his life’s purpose so much as the illusion that he had a purpose in life. Work provides no counter-balance to his unraveling personal life for, there too, he realizes he has long been deluding himself. He had not become a lawyer out of a passion for justice as he had sometimes tried to convince himself. Rather, he “had become a lawyer by sheer chance, because [he] had found nothing better to do or wasn’t up to looking for it.” He had just been marking time in practice, “waiting for [his] ideas to clarify.” His wife’s departure brings a now unwelcome clarity: “Then the lid blew off and from the pan emerged a lot of things I had never imagined and didn’t want to see. That no one would want to see.”

But in the end, it is his work as a lawyer that brings him back to himself and into the world, when he is engaged to defend Abdou Thiam, a 31-year-old Senegalese pedlar who has been charged with the murder of a 9-year-old Italian boy. Thiam had been seen speaking to the boy on the beach on a number of occasions, and has been found to have a photo of him as well as some children’s books among his possessions. A bar owner has said that he witnessed Thiam walking towards the boy’s grandparents’ home on the day in question, and one of his fellow pedlars has said that he saw Thiam washing his car the day after. This tissue of circumstantial evidence, through the lens of the racism of witnesses, police, lawyers, and judges, is thought to add up to an airtight case. Guerrieri has no faith in his capacity to counter it, and initially advises Thiam to opt for “the shortened procedure” which would rule out an acquittal but perhaps lead to something less than a life sentence. But Thiam protests his innocence and wants to fight for an acquittal. Guerrieri’s growing belief in and sense of responsibility to his client, and the challenge of the trial gradually bring him back to life.

This is not a mystery novel. No attempt is made to get to the bottom of the question of who committed the murder. All of the suspense relates to the outcome of the trial. Following the process from beginning to end offers some fascinating glimpses into the Italian legal system. (The author served for many years as an anti-mafia prosecutor in Bari, the same southern Italian city in which the novel is set, so I’m confident that the depiction of the operation of Italian criminal law is an accurate one.) One facet of the novel that I particularly appreciated that Carofiglio has in common with some of my favourite Scandanavian crime writers is that he eschews the Hollywood version in favour of what seems a more realistic portrayal of the progress of a case through the justice system, adeptly conveying its plodding pace and bureaucratic nature without thereby producing a plodding read.

I was quickly caught up in Guerrieri’s life, and in Thiam’s fate, and found Involuntary Witness overall to be an always interesting, sometimes riveting, and ultimately very satisfying read. Carofiglio has written four novels featuring Guerrieri as the central character, three of which have so far been published in English translation, with the final one due out later this year. I am very much looking forward to continuing on to read the rest.