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)

2 Comments

  • Pingback: law.arts.culture » Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 21 … | U.S. Justice Talk

  • March 17, 2011 - 8:13 pm | Permalink

    you’ve got awesome post here, keep ’em coming.

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