Posts Tagged ‘publishers’

The Bloomsday litigants

The grandson of James Joyce, Stephen James Joyce, has used his control of the copyrights to Joyce’s work to impede scholarly research by threatening to withhold consent to any academic who would veer into investigation of the family history. He spent a hundred thousand dollars of the estate’s money to halt publication of a new edition of “Ulysses”; has “blocked or discouraged” a number of readings; and threatened to sue the National Library of Ireland when it sought to display its copies of Joyce’s manuscripts. In revenge for Michael Groden’s favorable blurb of a scholar Stephen Joyce disliked, Joyce quoted a price of a million and a half dollars for Groden’s right to quote “Ulysses” in the multimedia work he spent seven years preparing. D.T. Max in the June 19 New Yorker explores the younger Joyce’s battles, and also mentions other litigious literary estates.

Read On…

Update: “Million Little Pieces” class actions

Following the revelation that author James Frey presented fantasies as if they were autobiographical fact, enough outraged readers have stepped forward to demand cash damages — or at least enough class action lawyers have simulated the stepping forward of such outraged readers — that defendants Random House and Doubleday are now seeking the consolidation of no fewer than twelve lawsuits filed around the country. The federal Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation will soon consider (PDF, scroll to p. 11) the publishers’ motion to aggregate into one proceeding suits filed in the Southern District of New York, Northern District of Illinois, Western District of Washington, Eastern District of Michigan, Central District of California, and Southern District of Ohio (via Childs). For Ted’s extensive coverage of the Frey scandal and suits, see Jan. 31 and links from there.

Future sexually-frustrated-fan celebrity class actions

1) Ever since a tabloid story broke claiming that former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken was gay, there have been rumors that fans would file a class action lawsuit alleging consumer fraud. To date, noone has been that ridiculous (though the suit would be no more ridiculous than many successful consumer-fraud class actions), but the New York Post reports that gay-bashing fans have filed an FTC complaint alleging that they were misled as to the star’s sexuality by record-company promotions. If the theory holds water, celebrity magazines could use consumer-fraud-class-action civil discovery to uncover whether maverick movie stars have been engaging in risky business in the closet, with the firm chance that a few good men could suffer collateral damage to their privacy. (Other discussion of civil discovery and privacy: Feb. 9.)

2) The Smoking Gun has published correspondence from Jessica Alba’s attorneys threatening Playboy with suit over using her image on the cover. Without getting into the merits of her claim, I was entertained by the argument that Alba’s presence on the cover implied falsely that she would appear nude within the magazine (in fact, the magazine merely had a publicity still of Alba inside). One wonders if, should Alba fail to win an injunction against magazine distribution, there will be a creative class action from readers alleging consumer fraud by the failure to meet the implicit promise of photos of a naked Alba. (h/t to Slim)

Update: Dallas Observer doesn’t owe $1 billion

We reported on the story in September 2004:

“Joe Doe”, the HIV+ plaintiff in a Texas state lawsuit, is a member of the choral group “Positive Voices”—which has produced a CD with his photo and his real name. Nevertheless, when the alternative weekly Dallas Observer also identified “Doe” as HIV+ in passing in a larger December 4 story about a gay congregation titled “Fallen Angel,” “Doe” sued. The suit doesn’t allege that the Observer got its facts wrong, but argues that the story violates a Texas law prohibiting the disclosure of “medical test results,” with a fine of up to $10,000 for each disclosure. Since the Observer has circulation of 110,000, “Doe” figures he’s entitled to over a billion dollars.

Positive Voices is a group that advertises itself as consisting of HIV+ members. A Texas state court of appeals reversed the decision of the trial court not to grant summary judgment, and entered judgment for the defendants. (John Council, “Texas Appeals Court Sides With Newspaper in $1 Billion Suit Over HIV Disclosure”, Texas Lawyer, Feb. 13; New Times Inc., et al. v. John Doe., No. 05-05-00705-CV (Tex. App. Jan. 24, 2006)).

The decision was limited to the facts of the case, however, and the state statute remains overbroad, and could easily be construed by future courts to apply to the media. Or even personal-dating websites: a strict interpretation of the statute, HSC § 81.103, would create a cause of action for a plaintiff who posts “I have tested negative for HIV” on a website that screens essays against that website. And the statute is conceivably even broader, given its definition of “test result”:

“Test result” means any statement that indicates
that an identifiable individual has or has not been tested for AIDS
or HIV infection, antibodies to HIV, or infection with any other
probable causative agent of AIDS, including a statement or
assertion that the individual is positive, negative, at risk, or
has or does not have a certain level of antigen or antibody.

Why they aren’t running the cartoons

The Boston Phoenix (“World of Pain”, Feb. 9) tells readers that “frankly, the primary reason” it isn’t going to run the Danish Muhammed cartoons:

Out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. …Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year publishing history.

Somewhere there’s probably an issue of vicarious/employer liability lurking in here — if printing the cartoons did lead to violence, the Phoenix’s owners might well end up having to pay. But of course the venerable alt-weekly’s stance is practically a profile in courage compared with that of editors, publishers, governments and university officials in many other places, including South Africa (bans publication of images), Sweden (reported to have shut down website carrying them), Canada’s Prince Edward Island (university confiscates student newspaper, edict forbids weblog comments) and so on (Michelle Malkin roundup, Feb. 9). Commentaries worth reading: Krauthammer, Kinsley, and, from a different perspective, a commenter at Andrew Sullivan’s. (More on the cartoons here and here.)

Frey grilled

James Frey admitted on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show that The Smoking Gun’s investigation into his book was “pretty accurate.” (Howard Kurtz, “Oprah Winfrey Says She is ‘Deeply Sorry'”, Washington Post, Jan. 26; Gawker liveblog). Which leaves us wondering whether anyone is going to apologize for the nastygram that lawyer Marty Singer sent to The Smoking Gun seeking to intimidate them out of publishing the story.

“Trump sues author who questioned his billions”

Real estate mogul and television personality Donald Trump has sued Warner Books and New York Times reporter Timothy O’Brien for $5 billion, saying O’Brien’s new book about Trump maliciously portrays him as being worth no more than $250 million when the accurate figure would be upwards of $2 billion. (Claudia Parsons, Reuters/Washington Post, Jan. 24; Greg Levine, “Trump Sues Over Bio Book; Launches Travel Web Site”, Forbes, Jan. 24; Gina Serpe, “Trump’s Billion-Dollar Defaming Claim”, EOnline, Jan. 24).