The history of literature is covered in famous lawsuits involving writers and books. A book lawsuit more often than not involves someone claiming someone else has stolen their idea for a published work. You will frequently see this occur with books that are massively successful. You can also see disputes between agents and writers, publishing houses and writers, and much more. You can also see cases that played a vital role in determining whether or not a work of literature was fair game for parody, and to what extent you could reasonably tell the difference between parody and copyright infringement.
Gone With The Wind
There are tons of famous book lawsuits to research in greater detail. These lawsuits all seem to share the intriguing quality of introducing the law into the world of art, an unfortunate combination. Regardless of how the particulars of the case unfold, it is more often than not fascinating to watch how these entities exist within the same arena.
One recent case proved to be particularly fascinating, in terms of perhaps better understanding the point in which parody becomes infringement. A recent book entitled The Wind Done Gone aspired to be a cutting commentary, as well as a no-holds-barred parody of the iconic Margaret Mitchell book Gone with the Wind. However, the parody defense is more often than not applied to shorter works, such as short stories, TV sketch comedy, or a reference in a film. It is rare that a parody seeks to be so ambitious as to completely cover an epic from top to bottom. A similar example might be the works of Shakespeare, which are frequently parodied from beginning to end. Nonetheless, this is an interesting example of the arguments for and against parody, and at what point the parody infringes on the rights of the work that is being satirized.
In the end, the book was allowed to exist under the notions of free speech and parody.
Other Examples of Book Lawsuits
Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a towering masterpiece of both storytelling and commentary. It offers a perspective, beloved characters like Atticus Finch, Tom Robinson, and Scout Finch, and a plot that takes us into the heart of racism in Depression-era Deep South of America. It is a story as vital today as it was back then. Harper Lee would not publish another novel for decades, releasing a deeply controversial sequel (many believe it was never meant to be published) before her death.
While still alive, the author and long-time friend of Truman Capote found herself embroiled in at least two significant legal battles. In Harper Lee v. Samuel Pinkus, Lee claimed that Pinkus used Lee’s 2007 stroke to compel her towards inadvertently signing over the copyright to Mockingbird. She would eventually regain the rights, going on to sue Pinkus further for the fact that Pinkus continued to collect royalties on the book. Lee also brought another, although less-publicized lawsuit against a Monroeville Alabama museum for exploiting her fame for their sole profit.
The list of examples can go on for quite some time. J.D. Salinger was another reclusive author with few publishing credits. Although his publishing output ceased in 1965, it was widely understood that he was still writing. Those books are likely to begin coming out in the wake of his passing, but it is difficult to imagine anything ever being more popular than Catcher in the Rye.
Catcher In The Rye Lawsuit
Salinger sought to protect what he apparently saw as an attack on his most famous creation with his famous 2009 lawsuit against Swedish author Fredrik Colting. Writing under the name of John David California, Colting published a book that was essentially designed to both parody and sequelize Holden Caulfield and Catcher in the Rye. The lawsuit eventually settled with the decision that Colting would not be allowed to publish his book in Canada or the United States, until such time as Catcher in the Rye went into the public domain.
There are several other book lawsuits worth researching. Check out Darla Yoos/Edwin McCall/Kerry Levine v PublishAmerica. You should also check out Faulkner Literary Rights LLC v Sony, in addition to Charles Harris v Oprah. People can be enormously protective of creative properties, particularly the lucrative ones. But the real power is still in the underlying greatness of the art.