Saturday, November 10, 2007

What Fresh Hell Is This? Part II

Back on July 19 here, in a post labeled "What Fresh Hell Is This?" I blogged about the Dorothy Parker case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.

At its heart, this is a copyright case. Attorney Stuart Silverstein put together a compilation of Dorothy Parker's previously uncollected poems into an anthology published as Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker. He approached Penguin with his compilation. When they offered him only $2,000, he took his anthology to Scribner, and the book was published in 1996.

In 1999, Penguin published another anthology and titled it Dorothy Parker: Complete Poems. Their editor admitted in depositions that she purchased Silverstein's book, cut the pages out, photocopied the poems and put them into the Penguin manuscript in chronological order. Penguin did not credit Silverstein as their source or pay him any royalties.

In 2001, Silverstein sued Penguin, claiming copyright infringement. If an editor contributes creativity beyond the original work, he can claim copyright over his arrangement of the material.

In April, 2003, U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan found Penguin guilty of copyright infringement and ruled in favor of Silverstein. According to The New York Times (NYT), Keenan said Penguin's "failure to credit him 'was deliberate and not inadvertent'."

Penguin appealed and the appeals court sent the case back to Judge Keenan, asking him to rule on whether Silverstein exercised creativity in selecting the works for his compilation.

On Thursday, Judge Keenan finally ruled. According to Publishers Weekly, "[i]n his ruling, Judge Keenan found that Not Much Fun did not involve enough creativity on Silverstein’s part to merit copyright protection. 'The Court finds that Silverstein simply selected for inclusion in Not Much Fun all of the uncollected Parker poems he could find and that this collection process involved no creativity,' Keenan wrote in his decision.

Penguin has posted the 79-page ruling in a PDF file here. The publisher said the decision "is a complete vindication for Penguin, and a great victory for all publishers."

Silverstein and his attorney are still trying to decide whether they will appeal the decision.


Peter L. Winkler said...

Having gone to law school, this strikes me as one of those cases where common sense and Judge Keenan's decision overlap nicely. On he other hand, it speaks badly for the labyrinthine legal process that the case had such a long life. Silverstein's claim was without merit.

phyl said...

No writer wants to feel ripped off. With previous knowledge of the concept of my first novel, someone published a short story based on my book idea. Although I was upset, I also realized that no one can copyright an idea and each author puts his or her own spin on a story.
Phyllis Johnson, author of
HOT and Bothered By It (midlife humorous poetry) and
Being Frank with Anne- a poetic interpretation of Anne Frank's diary (both at Community Press)