Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Seinfelds Sued

On October 21, I did a post here about Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook, which was released on October 5. Questions were being raised about the similarities to a cookbook released on April 4 by lesser known writer, Missy Chase Lapine.

Two of the most talked about similarities were the covers, which each included a mom hiding carrots behind her back and similar recipes, including one that suggested putting avocado in chocolate pudding.

After Lapine's publisher contacted Seinfeld's publisher, Seinfeld's cover was changed so that the carrots were moved to a cutting board.

Both Jessica and her husband, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, strenuously denied any plagiarism. In November, when asked about the controversy during an appearance on The View, Jessica said:

“I can understand why she would have been frustrated. It must have been hard to see how quickly my book took off. I never saw her book, I never saw her recipes, nor, as a person, would I ever do something like I was accused of doing.”

Jerry also leaped to his wife's defense. He appeared on David Letterman's show, calling Lapine a "whacko" who claimed Jessica "stole my mushed up carrots." He went on to say that "She has three names and, you know, if you read history many of the three-named people do become assassins. Mark David Chapman, James Earl Ray."

Throughout the Seinfeld's public commentaries, Lapine remained silent, never issuing a public statement. That silence ended on Monday when Lapine sued both Jessica and Jerry Seinfeld in Manhattan federal court.

Reuters reports:

The suit, filed by cookbook author Missy Chase Lapine, claims Jessica Seinfeld copied her own book that explores how to sneak healthy foods into kids' diets. It also accuses the top comedian of embarking on a "slanderous attack" against Lapine on U.S. national television shows.

Take a look at Seinfeld's appearance on Letterman below and see what you think.

We all know by now that ideas aren't copyrighted. But did Jerry go too far?


B.E. Sanderson said...

He's a comedian for petesakes. If every comedian got sued when they said something unkind about someone else, most of them would be living in cardboard boxes under the freeway. Think how many people could sue Jay Leno during any given year.

The whole three-names assassin thing was part of Jerry's act long before this ever came up (unless I'm confusing him with another comedian, which is possible). It's just an unfortunate coincidence she has three names, and so falls under the premise of the joke.

Silly case when you think about it, especially given there's real plagiarism going on in the world.

Maya Reynolds said...

B.E.: While I would agree with you in most cases, I don't know that I agree with you here.

Keep in mind Lapine NEVER made a comment. Her publisher had talked to Seinfeld's publisher. So the attack (funny as it was) was completely unprovoked on Lapine.

She is not a public figure of whom people might already have an opinion. Nor was she like the runaway bride whose behavior resulted in all the jokes made at her expense.

In my mind, she was minding her own business when Jerry made her a target, publicly calling her a whacko and saying she was accusing his wife of breaking into her publisher's offices.

She doesn't have a bully pulpit the way Seinfeld does. That makes his behavior unfair--and opportunistic--to me.

I don't think the plagiarism charge will stick. I'm not as sure about the defamation charge.

Stephen Parrish said...

I agree with Beth. Jerry is gonna be Jerry. Also, he's defending his wife, so he'll employ tooth and nail. It's very obvious, at least to me, that he's just making jokes.

My understanding is that Ms. Seinfeld's book came out a month after What's-Her-Name's. Given the pace of the publishing industry, is it reasonable to suspect that Ms. Seinfeld read What's-Her-Name's book, copied it as her own, submitted it for publication, and saw the final version appear in stores---in a mere month?

Maya Reynolds said...

Stephen: Lapine's book came out in April and Seinfeld's in October, a six-month gap.

I agree that it is entirely plausible the books' similarities are a coincidence. I was in first grade before I learned mashed potatoes weren't orange because my mother hid carrots in them since I refused to eat cooked carrots.

It was the readers of the two books who raised the issue and began talking about the similarities. That's when the story about the covers came out.

I just wish the Seinfelds had maintained the same dignified silence that Lapine did.