Posts Tagged ‘publishers’

Libel: the damage winning can do

About a year ago the conservative magazine National Review (disclosure: I’ve written for them and for a while served as a contributing editor on their masthead) was sued by a Muslim activist who claimed to have been defamed by an article containing inaccuracies about his connection to a controversial gathering. The communications director for the local chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) expressed the hope that the lawsuit would “deter hate-mongers from undermining the character and work of those who do not share their extremist views.” The magazine eventually succeeded in getting the suit thrown out and even got a small payment from the plaintiff, but its libel insurance policy carried a $50,000 deductible, and its total expenses exceeded $65,000. It’s opened an appeal for contributions to cover the resulting hole in its budget — a “post-defense defense fund”. As Voltaire put it, “I was never ruined but twice: once when I lost a lawsuit and once when I won one.”

They’re using your name! Let’s get ’em!

The central character in a new Tom Hanks movie, “The Terminal”, is a hapless Eastern European tourist by the name of “Viktor Navorski,” a name recalling that of the veteran left-wing author and Nation magazine publisher Victor Navasky. “Whenever a commercial for ‘The Terminal’ appeared on television, my phone would ring and it would be another attorney assuring me that my ship had come in. Clearly I had a case for “misappropriation of my name and likeness,’ ‘expropriation of my right of publicity’ and my favorite, ‘product disparagement.'” (Victor Navasky, “You Say Navorski, He Says Navasky”, Los Angeles Times, Jul. 5).

“Naming a character after a famous person costs writer $15 million”

That’s Eugene Volokh’s capsule summary (Jul. 12) of the jury result reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Tony Twist, the former rock ’em-sock ’em Blues hockey player, was awarded $15 million Friday by a jury that concluded comic book artist Todd McFarlane had profited by using Twist’s name without his permission. McFarlane, formerly the principal artist and writer of Spiderman comics, gave the name Tony Twist to a violent New York mob boss in McFarlane’s Spawn comics in the early 1990s.” (Peter Shinkle, “Tony Twist wins $15 million verdict”, Jul. 10). Brian J. Noggle also comments.

Dept. of truly bad ideas

“Republican Californian Congressman Duncan Hunter has introduced a bill titled the ‘Parents’ Empowerment Act,’ which would allow the parent or guardian of a minor to sue (in federal court) anyone who knowingly disseminates any media which contains ‘material that is harmful to minors.'” The bill would apply in cases where “a reasonable person would expect a substantial number of minors to be exposed to the material” and “the minor as a result of exposure to that material is likely to suffer personal or emotional injury or injury to mental or moral welfare.” “Compensatory damages under the bill would start at no less than $10,000 for any instance a minor is exposed to harmful entertainment products”, and liability would apparently extend to original publishers, final retailers, and everyone in between. (“House Bill Threatens Retailers”, News, May 21; Jonah Weiland, “CBLDF: New Censorship Bill Turns Parents Into Prosecutors”, May 21; Alan Connor, “The Parents’ Empowerment Act: finding the porn in Harry Potter”, London Review of Books, May 20)(text of H.R. 4239, introduced Apr. 28, courtesy Focus on the Family, the religious-right group, likes the idea (Keith Peters, “Congress Considers Parents’ Empowerment Act”, Family News in Focus, May 3)(more on free speech and media law).

Pooh heirs v. Disney: now we are dismissed

“The Walt Disney Company prevailed on Monday in a 13-year legal dispute over royalties related to its Winnie the Pooh franchise when a judge dismissed the case, contending the plaintiff altered confidential memorandums and covered up the theft of documents obtained by a private investigator who sifted through the company’s trash. Judge Charles W. McCoy of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in his decision that the misconduct of the Slesinger family, which sued Disney in 1991 after contending the company cheated it out of royalty fees, was ‘so egregious that no remedy short of terminating sanctions’ would adequately protect Disney and the justice system from further abuse.” The family is vowing to appeal (Laura Holson, “After 13 Years, Judge Dismisses Case on Pooh Bear Royalties”, New York Times, Mar. 30). Earlier in the case, Disney had drawn sanctions “for deliberately destroying 40 boxes of documents that could have been relevant to the case, including a file marked ‘Winnie the Pooh-legal problems'”; see “The Document-Shredding Facility at Pooh Corner”, Aug. 24-26, 2001. For more on the propensity of some investigators retained in litigation to rifle adversaries’ garbage and commit other invasions of privacy, see Nov. 11, 2003 (FBI probe of Hollywood lawyers); Jul. 28-30, 2000 (Terry Lenzner, Oracle). More: Southern California Law Blog has followed the case.

Authors: sue us, please

“Paradoxically, a lawsuit, especially a flimsy one, can be a boon to a book’s fortunes. And increasingly, some writers and publishers admit to hoping they’ll attract one.” Humorist Al Franken was widely envied by other authors when Fox News filed its much-derided suit against his book title (see Nov. 22), and just this past week a small publisher, Soft Skull Press, got a windfall of coverage when publisher HarperCollins sent a cease and desist order (from which it soon retreated) suggesting that the title of one of its new books, “How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office” was too close to the title of Michael Moore’s “Stupid White Men”. Of course, things can get sticky fast if the legal complaint really does have merit. (Christopher Dreher, “So sue me… please!”, Boston Globe, Mar. 21) (via Tyler Cowen, Volokh).

Update: Fox gets skinned

Federal judge Denny Chin in Manhattan rebuffed Fox News’s request for an injunction to prevent the Penguin Group from releasing humorist Al Franken’s new book with a title mocking the network’s “Fair and Balanced” slogan (see Aug. 12). “There are hard cases and there are easy cases. This is an easy case,” said Judge Chin. “This case is wholly without merit both factually and legally.” “During arguments held before his ruling, Chin asked Fox lawyer Dorie Hansworth if she really believed that the [book’s] cover was confusing. ‘To me, it’s quite ambiguous as to what the message is,’ she said. ‘It’s a deadly serious cover … This is much too subtle to be considered a parody.” The book’s cover is dominated by its title, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right”. (Gail Appleson, “Fox Loses Bid to Stop Sale of Franken Book”, Reuters/Yahoo, Aug. 22). Ernest Svenson (Ernie the Attorney) chides Fox not only for the weakness of its substantive trademark position but also for using its complaint as a vehicle for personal attacks on Franken: “the courts aren’t there for litigants who want retribution.” (“A lawyer’s take on Al Franken’s First Round Legal Victory”, Blogcritics, Aug. 22). Eugene Volokh also comments.

Comics? Must be for kids

“Earlier this [month], the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Jesus Castillo’s 2000 obscenity conviction for selling a comic book. … In September 1999, Castillo, manager of Keith’s Comics in Dallas, sold a copy of ‘Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen’ No. 2 to an undercover police officer. The adults-only comic (an English translation of a Japanese manga) was labeled as such and was stocked in an adults-only section of the shop. The police officer was an adult. … ‘I don’t care what kind of testimony is out there,’ the prosecuting attorney said. ‘Comic books, traditionally what we think of, are for kids.'” (Franklin Harris, Pulp Culture Online, Aug. 7) (via Unqualified Offerings)(Comic Book Legal Defense Fund). More: reader William Dyer (BeldarBlog) writes taking issue with the linked stories.