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Penguin Faces Off in Plagiarism Suit

Starting July 17, 2007, Penguin will be in court to defend itself from allegations of copyright infringement by Stuart Silverstein. For anyone not familiar with how slowly the wheels of justice churn, Silverstein’s case is illlustrative. The story begins in 1994 when Silverstein shopped around a compilation of 122 Dorothy Parker poems, many of which had never been included in book form.

He brought the collection to Penguin and was offered $2,000 for an advance. Silverstein declined and eventually published the collection, NOT MUCH FUN: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker through Scribner. In 1999, Penguin released, Dorothy Parker: Complete Poems in 1999, which was essentially a “comma by comma” copy of Silverstein’s work. The Penguin editor admitted that she copied Silverstein’s book and cut and pasted the poems into Complete Poems.

(as an aside, I wonder if this was the same editor who allegedly asked Millenia Black to blackify her book?)

Silverstein filed suit and it has gone round and round (all the way to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal) and is now set for trial. The basis of the dispute is whether the compilation by Silverstein contains enough creativity to deserve a copyright.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

5 Comments

  1. Ancient Reader
    Apr 02, 2007 @ 17:14:07

    I favor the Plaintiff.

    It seems the issue is on the wrong emphasis. A better way to style it according to my legal mind (though I’m not familiar with the facts of the case) is to say:

    Who is entitle to any rights of the poem.

    When that is determined then copyrights issues can follow.

  2. Jane
    Apr 02, 2007 @ 19:04:30

    I read that Dorothy Parker willed all her rights to the NAACP but some of the poems were public domain. Some were in newspapers, etc. The argument isn’t who the rights holder was for the individual works but the compilation. That’s the issue set by the 2nd Cir and so that is what will be tried.

  3. Emily
    Apr 02, 2007 @ 19:58:09

    It would seem to me that he should get something for tracking down the more scattered poems, if that was a relatively arduous task.

  4. Jane
    Apr 02, 2007 @ 21:00:15

    He did get paid from scribner. He just wants to stop the same version from being sold by Penguin for which he will not receive any royalties.

  5. Emily
    Apr 03, 2007 @ 09:31:47

    Yes, but the second version is benefitting from his efforts dishonestly. The second editor is profiting from his labors in that she used his work rather than having to locate all the first sources herself. As an academic I see that as inappropriate. She should do her own research–I believe that is the point being made rather than one of literal ownership of the works, but the law doesn’t really provide an appropriate avenue for prosecuting what amounts to academic dishonesty and abuse of position. She should not have made use of–in any way–a manucript submitted to her and rejected. She rejected it, it should go in the bin.

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