Books, Authors and Lawsuits: Five Cases

Authors and Lawsuits

Artists seem to be suing each other every week in the music business, claiming that songs sound similar and even that entire melodies have been ripped off. There are only a specific amount of notes and ways that they be put together, and it creates a minefield for artists.

Music, like story ideas, are something that can come to the artists out of nowhere, even in a dream, and it’s hard to know if that idea really did spring up out of nowhere or if it was subconsciously ripped from somewhere else.

Thankfully, the publishing world is not as cutthroat and unforgiving as the music one, but there still are lawsuits filed all of the time and what follows is a list of the biggest.

Class Action Vanity

Vanity presses are a stain on the publishing industry. They take money from hard-working, hopeful authors and they promise them an experience like that of working with a traditional publisher.

It’s self-publishing, and what makes it even more nefarious is that these days they target older people who perhaps don’t know how to use things like Amazon Publishing and therefore think they need to pay a fortune to have someone else do the job for them.

In 2012, a class action lawsuit was filed against PublishAmerica by authors who claimed that the company positioned itself as a traditional publisher but was actually nothing more than a vanity press.

They alleged that the Maryland-based publisher made promises it couldn’t fulfill and published books riddled with mistakes.

Just another reason (of the hundreds that exist) why you should never publish with a vanity press. If you simply want to see your book in print, try CreateSpace. If, for whatever reason, you don’t like it, try Unbound, try Blurb. Try anything—just don’t use vanity presses.

Charles Harris vs Oprah

In 2008 Charles Author sent his short non-fiction book on US presidents to Oprah, hoping to be endorsed by the legendary host. He wasn’t, and she didn’t ask him on the show or mention his book, but when she quoted a question that he had included in his book, Harris lawyers got involved and tried to sue for $100 million.

The lawsuit was quickly thrown out, with the judge noting that trivia can not be copyrighted.

James Frey vs His Readers

James Frey was one of the most controversial authors to have appeared on Oprah. She endorsed his book, A Million Little Pieces, only to find out that most of it had been fictionalized.

Oprah was incensed by this discovery, as were his readers, and following a class action lawsuit the publishers, Random House, were forced to pay refunds to readers.

Although they apparently only ever paid back $30,000, despite the fact that the book made millions.

That’s one case that does not warrant a legal appeal.

J.D. Salinger vs J.D. California

J.D. California was the (rather unimaginative) pen name of a Swedish author who, in 2009, decided to publish a sequel to Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye.

But he did so without permission and Salinger, who had been full-blown recluse for many years at that point, made a brief appearance to sue, claiming that the work was not a parody or satire and therefore broke copyright rules.

The authors eventually settled, with J.D. California agreeing not to sell in the US or Canada until Salinger’s seminal work enters the public domain.

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