Tag Archives: publishing

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)

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 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.

Last month, Stephen Hillard and Cruel Rune LLC, the author and publisher of Mirkwood, a novel featuring J.R.R. Tolkien as a character, received a letter from the Tolkien estate threatening immediate legal action for violations of intellectual property unless all copies of the book are destroyed. But it is Hillard and Cruel Rune who are now taking preemptive legal action, seeking a declaration from a Texas court that the book, which they describe as “both a work of fiction and a critical analysis of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien,” is protected by the fair use doctrine and the First Amendment. Given the current popularity of works of fiction in which historical figures appear as characters (termed “faction” by one recent commentator), the implications of the case could be far-reaching. (THR, Esq., Courthouse News, Observer)

Fawzia Afzal-Khan has self-published her fictionalized memoir, Lahore With Love: Growing Up With Girlfriends Pakistani Style. It was published by Syracuse University Press last spring, but quickly spiked after the press received threats of legal action from a woman in Pakistan who alleges that one of the characters in the book is a defamatory portrait of her. The National Writers Union and others have criticized SUP for failing to champion the author and her right to freedom of expression, particularly in light of the protection now afforded by the U.S. SPEECH Act against the enforcement of foreign libel judgments. You can read SUP’s statement here, TWU’s statement here, and the author’s account of her experience here. (Inside Higher Ed, TDR, change.org)

The International Publishers Association is concerned about the fate of Shahla Lahiji, founder of Roshangaran, an Iranian press that publishes books on women’s issues, after she is said to have been named on a “blacklist, reportedly circulated by a chapter of Iran’s Basij militia at Khajeh Nasir University, contain[ing] names of Iranian publishers it thinks are displaying ‘evidence of soft overthrow and velvet revolution.’” (The Bookseller)

A UK teacher is waiting to hear from an employment tribunal whether she’s entitled to compensation for her 2009 dismissal. She was fired for gross misconduct over a short novel she wrote that was intended to get students in difficulty interested in reading by including them as characters. Though by all accounts the project succeeded in this aim, the controversy that led to her dismissal erupted when the book, replete with sexual references and swear words, was inadvertently made publicly available through an online self-publishing site. (Guardian)

On behalf of UK library users, a Birmingham-based human-rights law firm is mounting a court challenge to Somerset and Gloucestershire library closures on the basis that proposed cuts violate “the statutory obligation under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act for local authorities to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient library service for everyone wanting to use it.’” (Guardian)

The family of animator Max Fleischer has been unsuccessful in a bid to claim exclusive ownership of his creation, comic character Betty Boop. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week upheld a lower court ruling denying the family’s copyright and trademark claims on the basis that they were unable to prove a valid transfer to them in the intervening decades of the rights that Fleischer sold to Paramount Pictures in the 1940s. Of the trademark claim, Judge J. Clifford Wallace wrote: “If we ruled that Avela’s depictions of Betty Boop infringed Fleischer’s trademarks, the Betty Boop character would essentially never enter the public domain.” (THR Esq., WSJ, Clannco)

Accusations of plagiarism flew around the music world this week, leveled against Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Britney Spears. Only the claim against Spears appears poised to spark a lawsuit, with the Bellamy Brothers complaining that her new single “Hold It Against Me” is “too close” to their 1979 hit “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?”, and indicating that they “will without doubt take the appropriate legal action if [their] attorneys agree [they’ve] been ripped off.” (The Daily Beast, Jezebel, Starpulse)

Bunhill Fields cemetery in north London has attained the protected status of a Grade I designation on English Heritage’s register of parks and gardens of special historic interest. “The cemetery, founded in the 1660s as a burial ground for nonconformists, radicals and dissenters, holds the remains of John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, and the poet and artist William Blake, among thousands of others.” To see a slide show of photographs taken there by Graham Turner for the Guardian, click here. The photograph above and to the right is of the monument to Daniel Defoe. (Guardian)

John le Carré has donated his literary archive to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The archive includes multiple drafts of his novels, and many boxes of correspondence and personal photographs. Le Carré was a student at Oxford, as was his most famous character, fictional Cold War spy George Smiley. “Oxford was Smiley’s spiritual home, as it is mine. And while I have the greatest respect for American universities, the Bodleian is where I shall most happily rest,” said le Carré. The Bodleian plans to make the archive available to researchers online. (Telegraph, Independent)

Kate Taylor profiles Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, “a bestselling Swedish crime-writing duo with the most unlikely background: They met through a mutual interest in the rehabilitation of ex-cons.” The profile suggests that their books exemplify the best qualities of the current wave of Swedish crime fiction with which they are associated in that they simultaneously provide entertainment and social commentary. (Globe & Mail)

Vit Wagner highlights the best of Canadian crime fiction in an article primarily focused on author Ian Hamilton whose debut novel, The Water Rat of Wanchai, the first installment in a Toronto-based mystery series featuring forensic accountant Ava Lee as sleuth, has just been released to rave reviews. (Toronto Star)

James Bartleman talks with Mark Medley about his first novel, As Long as the Rivers Flow, which centres on the residential school experience of the main character and its aftermath. “It’s not, Bartleman says, ‘an indictment of white society,’ but rather a novel showing how a wrong committed against one person can echo for generations.” He hopes “that this book would appeal to marginalized people everywhere.” (National Post)

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, January 31-February 6, 2011

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

Penguin is reported to be delaying publication of an English translation of Zhang Ling’s award-winning Chinese novel Gold Mountain Blues “until it is satisfied that the author hasn’t been poaching from the works of Canada’s Chinese Canadian literary elite.” Chinese bloggers have alleged plagiarism of the work of such authors as Denise Chong, Wayson Choy, and Sky Lee; Zhang categorically denies the allegations. (Toronto Star)

A class-action suit for consumer fraud has been filed against Jimmy Carter and his publisher Simon & Schuster claiming that his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, “was falsely marketed as an accurate account of peace negotiations in the Middle East.” The fraud case arising from James Frey’s mostly fabricated memoir, A Million Little Pieces, is cited as a precedent. Simon & Schuster reject any parallel, pronouncing the suit to be “frivolous, without merit,” and “a chilling attack on free speech.” (NYT, The Faculty Lounge)

H.B. Fenn, Canada’s largest book distributor, has filed for bankruptcy protection in “the latest example of what has become ceaseless turmoil in Canada’s most vulnerable cultural industry.” Critics decry government inaction. Kim McArthur, of McArthur & Company Publishing, asks: “Why are they screaming about some Australians wanting to buy a potash company when there’s not a peep about the thing they’re meant to be protecting – Canadian publishers and Canadian authors?” (Globe & Mail)

A study commissioned by NBC Universal finds that music piracy is on the decline. Matt Rosoff draws the conclusion that, not only are people not buying, they “don’t care about music enough” to steal it either. (SFGate)

Artist Jeff Koons has “backed down in an intellectual property dispute over balloon dog-shaped bookends” manufactured by Toronto company Imm-Living and sold by San Francisco gallery Park Life. (NYT)

A U.S. District Court Judge has dismissed “a lawsuit accusing Christie’s auction house of failing to recognize a valuable drawing by Leonardo da Vinci and selling it for a fraction of its true worth.” (Reuters, Clancco)

Producers of The Hurt Locker seek to have a war veteran’s defamation suit against the film dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP statute as an attempt to stifle free speech. (Reuters)

Kirk Makin reports on “the latest in a series of court rulings” in a family battle over the estate of millionaire John Kaptyn, “written last week by an irate judge who compared the Kaptyns to Charles Dickens’s feuding Jarndyce clan, from the novel Bleak House.” (Globe & Mail)

One of fifteen unpublished Dashiell Hammett stories, only recently unearthed by editor Andrew Gulli in a Texas archive, is to be published in The Strand this month. Apparently not all of the stories are in Hammett’s classic hard-boiled style though, which makes the find all the more exciting to some. “We have discovered that he was a far more versatile writer than he ever gets credit for,” Gulli said. (The Guardian)

A joint investigative report titled Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America highlights the gulf between the reality of forensic investigation, and representations of it in detective novels and on television crime dramas. (NPR, Law & Humanities Blog)

Susannah Meadows has effusive praise for The Death Instinct, Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld’s “tremendous follow-up to his 2006 novel, The Interpretation of Murder.” (NYT)

David Orr’s perusal of Poetry of the Law: From Chaucer to the Present, a new anthology edited by David Kader and Michael Stanford, prompts a broad-ranging and thought-provoking consideration of law, literature, and interdisciplinarity. (Poetry Magazine)

Nancy F. Koehn pronounces Ben Tarnoff’s Moneymakers: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious Counterfeiters a “rollicking good read” that “shows how three con men were able to thrive in America’s early days because of a weak central government, an often-chaotic banking system, a turbulent economy and an entrepreneurial populace.” (NYT)

Roger Hutchinson finds John Macleod’s None Dare Oppose: The Laird, the Beast and the People of Lewis to be “an absorbing account of malice and mischief in the 19th-century Hebrides.” (Scotsman)

Emily Temple displays and discusses “a series of cohesive covers for Schocken’s (part of Pantheon) backlist of Kafka books” designed by Peter Mendelsund which “will begin appearing on paperbacks early this summer.” I’ve posted a few of my favourites above. (Flavorwire)

Charles Dickens’ 1844 Copyright Suit

In January 1844, Charles Dickens launched a copyright suit in the Court of Chancery against printers and publishers Richard Egan Lee and John Haddock.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol had been published on December 19, 1843, and not quite three weeks later, on January 6th, Lee & Haddock’s version, “re-originated” by Henry Hewitt, had appeared for sale under the title A Christmas Ghost Story. An outraged Dickens instructed his solicitor to “stop the Vagabonds” at once. Over a whirlwind three days, his bill of complaint was filed, and an interim injunction sought and obtained.

Dickens was known to be an advocate of copyright, having caused quite a stir during his 1842 visit to the U.S. with speeches agitating for an international agreement. But despite having been a frequent victim of domestic piracy, he had never before taken legal action to enforce the copyright protection available to him at home.

Why, then, did he act with such alacrity in January 1844? Perhaps because his hopes for A Christmas Carol were so high. Dickens had attained enormous success by this time, but his fortunes appeared to be on the wane. Critics had not been enthusiastic about his most recent books, and sales had dropped so precipitously that his publishers were poised to invoke a contractual clause that entitled them to reduce their payments to him accordingly. Indeed, their faith in the marketability of his work had soured to the extent that they rejected A Christmas Carol. Dickens had to self-publish, taking all of the responsibility and the risks upon himself. But he did not hesitate to do so, so convinced was he that the book would revive his critical status and earn him a quick profit as well.

Dickens’ confidence proved well founded. The reviews were raves; even William Thackeray, usually his harshest critic, had nothing negative to say, pronouncing A Christmas Carol to be “a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness.” The book went through three printings in two weeks, with 15,000 copies sold in that space of time ⎯extraordinary numbers given the steep price of 5 shillings charged for each lavishly produced volume. But that lavishness, particularly the inclusion of colour plates, rendered the profit margin very slim, so runaway success though it was, many more copies would have to be sold before Dickens could pocket the “thousand pounds clear” on which he had set his heart.

Thus Dickens’ concern over the potential undercutting of sales by Lee & Haddock’s penny edition was understandable. But if bringing suit against them was initially a business decision, the affidavits they filed in support of their motion to dissolve the interim injunction transformed it into a matter of personal honour.

Lee & Haddock maintained that A Christmas Ghost Story was not simply a copy of A Christmas Carol, but a considerable improvement upon it, and hence an original work. Henry Hewitt had, it was averred, “tastefully remedied” the “defects and inconsistencies” in Dickens’ work, and supplemented it with “a more artistical style of expression” and “large original additions.” For example, Lee pointed out, where Dickens had made only a brief mention of Tiny Tim singing a song about a child lost in the snow, Hewitt had penned an original song of sixty lines that was “replete with pathos and poetry.” They went further to allege that Dickens was in fact indebted to Hewitt, having obtained “the germs of many of his works” from the “hints” and “criticisms” contained in Hewitt’s earlier re-originations of The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge, both also procured, published and sold by Lee & Haddock. Finally, Hewitt himself claimed that Dickens owed more “to the works of an author named Washington Irving for the material of his Christmas Carol” than Hewitt did to Dickens for his Christmas Ghost Story.

Judge Knight Bruce, before whom the motion to dissolve the interim injunction was heard on January 18th, was not convinced. He opined: “The defendant has printed and published a novel, of which the fable, the persons, the names of persons, the characters, the age and time, and scene and country, are wholly the same. The style of language in which the story is told is in some instances identical, and in all similar.” He concluded that, in his view, the defendants’ publication was “plainly colourable,” and, on that basis, he upheld the injunction.

Dickens was ebullient, declaring: “The pirates are beaten flat. They are bruised, bloody, battered, smashed, squelched, and utterly undone.” Of course, these were only preliminary motions. For a final resolution from the courts, Dickens would have to bring the matter to trial. But given the decisiveness of the judge’s rejection of the defendants’ arguments, Dickens suspected that a trial would not be necessary, and so it proved. After some hedging, the defendants accepted Dickens’ terms, agreeing to apologize for their affidavits and to pay all of Dickens’ costs.

Alas for Dickens, it did not end there. Lee & Haddock promptly declared bankruptcy, thereby evading their obligation to pay his costs and leaving him on the hook for a substantial sum. In the end, Dickens’ costs swallowed nearly all the profits that A Christmas Carol had generated, leaving him feeling much scarred by the experience. Some years later, when it was suggested that he take action against another instance of piracy, Dickens recalled “the expense, and anxiety and horrible injustice of the Carol case,” and declined to proceed. He concluded that “it is better to suffer a great wrong than to have recourse to the much greater wrong of the law.”

If Dickens obtained neither justice nor financial recompense from his foray into the Court of Chancery, the experience did provide direct inspiration for one of his finest novels, Bleak House. For that, I can’t help but think it was worth every bit of “the mental trouble and disturbance” he had to endure.

Sources:

Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853).

E.T. Jaques, Charles Dickens in Chancery (1914).

Les Standiford, The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits (2008).

Kathleen Tillotson, ed., The Letters of Charles Dickens, Volume 4 1844-1846 (1977).

* The above illustration is The Court of Chancery, drawn by Augustus Charles Pugin & Thomas Rowlandson for Ackermann’s Microcosm of London (1808-11).