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Author Sues Distributors for Sale of Unauthorized Copies of Books

Larry Townsend, a famous GLBT author of The Leatherman’s Handbook and its sequel, The Leatherman’s Handbook II, has sued a number of booksellers for infringing on his copyright by selling copies of his books. Townsend had originally been self publishing and self distributing until he made an agreement with Nazca Plains for distribution. Townsend and Nazca Plains got into a dispute over unpaid fees and have decided to sue the bookstores for the illegal profits.

I’m guessing that Nazca Plains might not be a deep enough pocket for Townsend. It’s certainly an interesting copyright question. As Townsend’s lawyer notes, the copyright law is an intentless one meaning that the booksellers don’t have to know that they are engaging in infringement in order to be infringers.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Ann Somerville
    Jun 18, 2008 @ 22:32:05

    I’m confused. If his distributor offered a valid contract *at the time* to the booksellers, surely the author can only go after the distributor. It’s not a copyright issue, is it? Unless the contract with the booksellers is revoked and they continue to sell afterwards?

  2. Angela James
    Jun 19, 2008 @ 07:21:00

    I read this a few days ago in PW and I was a bit disbelieving then, that the author/attorney felt they could go after the bookseller. The article was pretty sparse in details, but I’m not sure how a bookseller can be held responsible for entering into a contract in good faith with a distributor. How can a bookseller be held accountable for knowing if the distributor has the rights to that book? See the author contract? I don’t think any author wants that precedent set. I’m puzzled by this one.

  3. Jane
    Jun 19, 2008 @ 07:39:49

    I don’t know what the caselaw says about this and I don’t really have time today to look it up although I think I will this weekend, but generally a strict reading of the statute implies that anyone who violates the “exclusive rights of the copyright owner” is an infringer. The limitations on exclusive rights includes fair use and booksellers wouldn’t fall under that provision nor do they fall under exclusion afforded archivers and libraries. Would have to do a little research to determine whether there is some loophole that the booksellers could fall into but like I said in the article, the copyright law is kind of a strict liability thing. If you do it, your responsible regardless of your intent.

    The bookseller would have a cause of action against Nazda for misrepresentation probably (i.e., Nazda mispresented that it held the rights of distribution) for indemnification and/or contribution for any damages it is ordered to pay the author (assuming that the author’s allegations are all true which I am doing for the purpose of this hypothetical).

    I think that what would happen if Townsend is successful is that smaller, lesser known distributors will have a harder time getting their books into the stores.

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