Author Sued for Alleged Copyright Infringement on Classics

Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and the trustees for estates of Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway and Arthur C. Clarke, jointly filed a copyright suit in the New York Federal District Court of Lower Manhattan (Court) against Frederik Colting and Melissa Medina. The suit, filed on January 17th, alleges copyright infringement on four novels, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Old Man and the Sea, On the Road, and 2001: A Space Odyssey (“Novels”) by the defendants.

According to the complaint, the defendants, doing business as Moppet Books, sought to capitalize on the Novels’ enduring fame and popularity. They reproduced the works as what they advertise as “children’s versions” of the Novels and are offering them for sale on their website (www.kinderguides.com) and third-party retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Books-A-Million.

The complaint alleges the infringing titles are unauthorized derivatives drawing heavily on the plots, themes, events, and characters from each of the four novels. It stated there are many other classic works already in public domain to which the defendants could use to introduce the classics to children. “[T]he Defendants have chosen, instead, to trade upon the current appeal of the Novels, each of which is fully protected by valid and subsisting copyrights in the United States. They have done so purely for their own purposes, agenda and profit, at the expense of plaintiffs, and in complete disregard of copyright law.”

Mentioned in the suit is a previous copyright infringement case involving Colting in this same Court. In June of 2009, the J. D. Salinger estate sued Fredrik Colting for publishing an unauthorized sequel to The Catcher in the Rye. The Court rejected Colting’s author’s fair use defense. The case was settled in 2011, where Colting agreed not to publish or distribute his book, 60 Years Later–Coming Through the Rye, in the U.S. or Canada until The Catcher in the Rye enters public domain.

Colting has stated that the books do not infringe on copyrighted works as they “function as study guides as well as entertainment.” The suit states “[q]uick review readily reveals that the infringing works do not even purport to be companion guides or reference books intended for use by readers of the Novels because, as defendants also admit in their marketing materials, the Novels address adult themes and concepts” and “the KinderGuide editions are more closely akin to censored versions of the Novels”.

According to the suit, the defendants’ infringement impacts the reputation of the Novels, their authors, and takes away the exclusive right of the owner “to control how each of the novels is presented to the reading public, in what form, when, and to what audience.” Book reviews given by the New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian, and The Chicago Tribune on the KinderGuides named in the suit have been less than stellar.

The suit is seeking a judgment for the plaintiffs that will ban the defendants from reproducing, publishing, and selling the unauthorized KinderGuides of the four Novels in the United States. They want the judgment to order the defendants to destroy copies in their possession; recall all copies out of their possession, and grant the plaintiffs the profits along with damages and attorneys’ fees.

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