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Category: Law

Unhappy authors file class action suit against PublishAmerica

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A trio of authors dissatisfied with the services of the company PublishAmerica have filed suit in Maryland against the company; they have asked the court to certify them and other authors as a class.

PublishAmerica is a major source for authors seeking to get published; on its website, it claims it has published books by 50,000 authors, and it maintains that it is a traditional publishing house, that it does not charge its authors fees. Yet it is untraditional in that it is print-on-demand -- which sounds a lot like a vanity press, or self-publishing. There's not anything wrong with that -- in fact, self-publishing is booming -- but a model that combines self-publishing features and traditional publishing can lead to some unmet expectations.

The Frederick [Maryland] News Post reports:

The plaintiffs claim the company misrepresents its services in its contracts with authors, which gives PublishAmerica the rights to their work for between seven and 10 years. Fees that authors paid ranged from less than $30 to several hundred dollars.

They allege that the publisher, among other things, charges for services that traditional publishers perform at no cost to promote and sell books, misrepresents the company's ability to get writers' work on bookstore shelves or into the hands of larger publishers or celebrities, and publishes books with little or no editing and then charges the authors to have corrections made.

One notable, unfulfillable promise involved J.K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter and one of the wealthiest writers in the world. PublishAmerica promoted a delegation's visit to Rowling's hometown and asked for $49 for the following:

“We will bring your book to the attention of Harry Potter’s author next week while our delegation is in her hometown, and ask her to read it and to tell us and you what she thinks. Tell her what you think: in the Ordering Instructions box write your own note for JK Rowling, max. 50-100 words. We will include your note in our presentation for her!”

Rowling's lawyers issued a cease and desist letter to the company and told Publishers Weekly that the claim of PublishAmerica having any involvement with Rowling was "completely false."

That is not the only time that PublishAmerica's offers to its authors have been the cause of concern: 267 were filed with the local Better Business Bureau in the last three years; the BBB has given PublishAmerica an F grade.

PublishAmerica responded to the Frederick News Post in a statement:

"Plaintiffs' claims are without any basis and we are confident that they will not hold up in court," the statement reads. "Plaintiffs' claims are directly contradicted by PublishAmerica's contracts, websites, its performance under its contracts, and the fact that 47,000 authors have happily joined PublishAmerica over the past 12 years, almost 15,000 of whom have also chosen PublishAmerica as the publisher of their next book.

"The claims distort the facts, omit relevant information, and in some cases are just plain false," according to the statement. "However, PublishAmerica will not litigate these claims in the media. Accordingly, it will respond to each allegation in due course during the litigation to the extent required by court procedure.

Which means for those curious about the fate of PublishAmerica and the unhappy authors, keep an eye on the court proceedings in Maryland.

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Image: Logo from the PublishAmerica website. Credit: PublishAmerica.

Judge paves way for authors to sue Google over scanning, e-books

Authors vs. Google

The judge in the long-running Google Books case paved the way Thursday for authors to sue Google as a class. Judge Denny Chin has granted class certification to authors challenging Google over its massive book digitization project.

"The ruling is a setback for Google," writes Jeff John Roberts at Paid Content, "which asked Judge Denny Chin earlier this month to remove the Authors Guild and a photographers’ group  from the lawsuit." He continues:

Google had also argued that a class action was not appropriate because many authors were in favor of having their works appear in the company’s search results.

Chin’s ruling means the stage is now set for a trial on whether Google’s decision to scan millions of books amounted to fair use under copyright law. This fair use question has triggered passionate debate among lawyers and scholars, and reflects Google’s position at the time it was sued by the Authors Guild and a consortium of publishers in 2005.

While lawyers for Google did not respond to the Associated Press' request for comment, the Authors Guild swiftly distributed a news release. In it, executive director Paul Aiken said, “This is a key ruling for all U.S. authors whose literary works have been appropriated by Google.” The release continues:

The class of authors includes all U.S. authors and their heirs with a copyright interest in books scanned by Google as part of its Library Project. Google has scanned 12 million books in that project, the majority of which are believed to be protected by copyright. Books from all over the world were copied, but U.S. works predominate.

Google's liability for copyright infringement has not yet been determined by the court.  Google's primary defense to infringement is that its actions are protected by fair use.

The Google Books project has been in legal limbo, which now is likely to be extended further. The Google Books settlement had proposed solutions for orphan works -- books whose copyright status is unclear -- that had been particularly objectionable to some author representatives. The Authors Guild notes, "If Google is found liable for infringement, copyright law prescribes statutory damages for willful infringement at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work."

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Photo: Screenshot of the Google logo. Credit: Karen Bleier /AFP/Getty Images

Festival of Books: On the Los Angeles riots, 20 years later

Click to view photos from the Festival of Books

In a lot of ways, Sunday's Festival of Books panel "Los Angeles, 20 Years After the Verdict," was a sequel to Saturday's interview by Patt Morrison with Rodney King, whose beating by L.A. police officers 21 years ago was the first in a series of steps that culminated in the 1992 riots.

And in another sense, the panel was a reunion for some of the players in that tragic moment in Los Angeles history.

Moderator Warren Olney, now a KCRW radio host, was a Los Angeles TV reporter at the time. He was joined by Jim Newton, L.A. Times columnist and editor at large, who was covering the Los Angeles Police Department for the L.A. Times when the riots began. 

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

Connie Rice was a civil rights activist and lawyer, and later a co-founder of The Advancement Project, and the recent author of "Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman's Quest for Social Justice in America, From the Kill Zones to the Courts." The fourth panelist was Gil Garcetti, who at the time was mounting a campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney.

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Rodney King and the L.A. riots: When 20 years can seem like yesterday

Click to view photos from the Festival of BooksOne aspect of Los Angeles hasn't changed in the 20 years since the 1992 riots: Traffic tie-ups. Rodney King, whose March 1991 beating by L.A. police officers was the first link in the chain of events that culminated in the 1992 riots, was a half-hour late Saturday for his interview with Times columnist Patt Morrison.

So, in a sense, the session ran in reverse. With Morrison, who also anchors a radio show on KPCC, as the moderator, Angelenos spent a half-hour talking about their own experiences during and after the riots as they awaited King's arrival. The general consensus: The LAPD has changed for the better, but the socio-economic conditions that set the stage for the riots have worsened. And the racial divides are still chasms.

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

"I'm surprised at how white we are here," said one white woman, looking around at the crowd of more than 500 people in a basement auditorium at USC's Ronald Tutor Campus Center, about four miles north of where the riots began near South Central's Normandie and Florence Avenues. The woman said she lived in South Central, in a neighborhood in which she is the rare white resident. "The riots can certainly start again, until we have socio-economic changes, and in how we view other people."

King, for his part, arrived out of breath, and spoke of forgiveness for the officers involved in his videotaped beating after a high-speed chase. With his history of substance abuse, he said, he has been in need of some forgiveness. "I am a forgiving man," he said. "That's how I was raised, to be in a forgiving state of mind. I have been forgiven many times. I am only human. Who am I not to forgive someone?"

Continue reading »

Department of Justice sues Apple and 5 major publishers over e-books

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The Department of Justice has filed suit against Apple and five of the six major publishers over colluding on the price of e-books. The Wall Street Journal, which has obtained copies of the documents filed in federal court in Manhattan, reports that the lawsuit '"alleges Apple and the publishers reached an agreement where retail price competition would cease, retail e-books prices would increase significantly and Apple would be guaranteed a 30% 'commission' on each e-book sold."

Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin and Macmillan are the five publishers that teamed up with Apple when it launched the iBookstore with the iPad in 2010. The partnership included a shift in pricing from publishing classic wholesale/retail model to the agency model, which Apple uses in iTunes, its music store.

At the time, Random House, the world's largest publisher, did not participate, and its books were not available in the iBookstore -- it joined a year later. Random House is not expected to be named in the suit.

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, Sharis Pozen, are expected at a news conference in Washington for 9 a.m. PDT that will announce "a significant antitrust matter."

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Photo: An iPad displays the Apple iBookstore. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

Author Greg Mortenson settles, will pay charity $1 million

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An investigation of "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson and his charity the Central Asia Institute over its administration was settled Thursday. According to the terms of the agreement, Mortenson will stay with the charity and has three years to pay it $1 million of his own money as compensation for using charitable funds to promote and buy his books.

The investigation was spearheaded by authorities in Montana, where the Central Asia Institute is registered. The settlement will allow Mortenson's charity to continue its work building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, albeit with major structural changes -- and Mortenson's repayment plan.

Mortenson has already paid back about half the funds, says Anne Beyersdorfer, the interim executive director. Mortenson stepped down as executive director and has left the board, but will remain an employee of the organization.

Mortenson made bestseller lists with "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones into Schools," his tales of mountaineering and school building in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was a popular speaker who spent much of his time -- and, it turned out, charitable funds -- touring the country talking about his books and work.

According to the Montana Attorney General's office, since 2006 the charity spent $4.9 million advertising Mortenson's two books and $4 million buying copies of them to give away to schools and libraries.

The reports about possible improprieties was brought to light by writer Jon Krakauer in April 2011. Krakauer's contentions about goings-on at the Central Asia Institute were broadcast on "60 Minutes" and caused a sensation. They were immediately followed by "Three Cups of Deceit," a 75-page story by Krakauer that launched the Byliner original e-book shorts for the Kindle; it quickly became a bestseller in its own right. Krakauer, the author of "Into Thin Air" and other bestsellers, also questioned the veracity of some of Mortenson's mountaineering stories. He visited remote locations where schools built by the charity stood empty, with no furniture or books.

The Central Asia Institute's board was made up of just three people -- Mortenson and two others. Boards of charities are meant to provide arms-length supervision of day-to-day activities, which the institute's apparently did not. The two other board members are reportedly to depart within a year and be replaced by a seven-member board.

The arrangement that allows the Central Asia Institute to continue its mission of building schools in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan is probably a wise one. Despite the controversy, readers who responded to Mortenson's story voiced support for the author and his work. With more formal administration, that work may be done more effectively, so donors' funds are put to best use.

Update April 23, 2:15pm: A previous version of this post said that Mortenson's settlement was the result of a lawsuit. There was no lawsuit; the settlement agreement was reached after an investigation.

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Photo: Greg Mortenson with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the opening of Pushghar Village Girls School, 60 miles north of Kabul in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan, in 2009. Credit: Department of Defense / Associated Press

Paramount sues to stop new 'Godfather' prequel's publication

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A prequel to Mario Puzo's "The Godfather," to be published by Grand Central, may not see shelves if Paramount has its way. The movie studio has sued to block publication of "The Family Corleone," slated for June. The book, written by Ed Falco, was sanctioned by Puzo's estate.

In a suit filed Feb. 17 in Manhattan, Paramount Pictures claims it is trying to "protect the integrity and reputation of The Godfather trilogy," the Wrap reports. When Puzo signed his contract with Paramount in 1969, it included broad rights to "The Godfather" and the characters in the novel. The studio made three Godfather pictures, all of which have been Academy Award winners or nominees.

There have been a number of other Godfather spinoffs, including a video game. And then there are the books.

The Puzo family authorized two sequels to "The Godfather" -- 2004's "The Godfather Returns" and, two years later, "The Godfather's Revenge." Both novels were written by Mark Winegardner, an author who teaches at Florida State University.

In the new suit, Paramount says it authorized the first sequel but not the second. It claims that "The Godfather's Revenge" "tarnished" the legacy of "The Godfather," and the studio is now seeking damages in addition to trying to block publication of "The Family Corleone."

The studio has long known about the book, which was announced by publisher Grand Central in May 2011. That was when it was made public that Falco, an uncle of "Sopranos" actress Edie Falco, would be penning a prequel; it's based on an unproduced screenplay written by Puzo, who died in 1999.

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Ezra Pound's daughter takes on Italian fascist group CasaPound

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Marlon Brando in the 1972 film "The Godfather." Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Ezra Pound's daughter takes on Italian fascist group CasaPound

Ezrapound1966Ezra Pound's daughter has filed suit to stop the Italian fascist group CasaPound from using her father's name.

Mary de Rachewiltz, who is 86, was motivated to act when a sympathizer of CasaPound went on a shooting spree in Florence on Dec. 13, killing two men from Senegal, wounding three others and then killing himself. 

"This affected me terribly. It was the last straw," she told the Guardian. "I studied in Florence which makes it that much more painful."

Why would a far-right group in Italy take its name from an American poet? That would be the unfortunate part of Pound's legacy. In London, the expatriate author and editor fostered the careers of some of the most significant writers of the 20th century, including James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Ernest Hemingway. But he became displeased with the politics of the first World War and moved to Italy, where he became enchanted by Benito Mussolini. His support for the Italian fascist included radio broadcasts during World War II that were eventually found treasonous by U.S. authorities. After the war, he was imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital for a dozen years. He returned to Italy and did not disavow his fascist ideas.

CasaPound has distanced itself from the shooter, who had spoken at group meetings. "We are very sorry about this. She doesn't really know about us. We are not racist or violent," Simone di Stefano, an official with the group, told the Guardian. "We would like to resolve this out of the courts -- Pound is not a trademark and anyone can refer to his ideas."

De Rachewiltz, for her part, does not think the organization should use her father's name. "A politically compromised organisation like this has no business using the name Pound," she told the Guardian. She points to his work as explanation. "Pound was not leftwing or rightwing and you have to understand The Cantos to understand that. It is also a question of style. I have seen pictures of their shaven-headed leader and it does not impress me."

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Photo: Ezra Pound in 1966. Credit: Jonathan Williams, from the book "A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude by Jonathan Williams," published by David R. Godine Publishers

'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' vs. 'Diary of a Zombie Kid'

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In the first corner, in the blue book jacket: the wildly successful "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series by Jeff Kinney. In the opposite corner, "Diary of a Zombie Kid" in splatter-red.

The second is meant to be a parody of the popular children's books, but according to lawyers for "Wimpy Kid" creator Kinney, it's not funny: It's trademark and copyright infringement. A suit was filed Tuesday in Massachusetts, Publishers Weekly reports:

In the filing, Wimpy Kid noted that since the publication of the first book in April 2007 it has rapidly become a “cultural phenomenon,” selling more than 52 million copies, with merchandising that includes T-shirts, hats, action figures, swimwear, and board games. It calls Diary of a Zombie Kid “a counterfeit, copy, and/or colorable imitation.”

Abrams, which has published all six books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, declined to comment on the lawsuit. At press time, PW was unable to reach Joe Dunn, publisher of Antarctic Press in San Antonio, Tex. [which published "Diary of a Zombie Kid"], or Antarctic’s counsel, copyright attorney William E. Maguire.

The success of the "Wimpy Kid" series has rubbed off on "Zombie Kid," which was selling at a respectable No. 50 spot on Amazon's comics and graphic novels bestseller list earlier this week.

Zombies have been treading their leaden steps into literature since Seth Grahame-Smith's surprise 2009 hit, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." The brain-hungry undead might have seemed an odd match for Jane Austen, but there was one thing that made them a perfect fit: Austen's work is in the public domain. Anyone can remake, retool or mash up "Pride and Prejudice," however, whenever they like.

Jeff Kinney's work? Not so much.

As of this writing, a second "Zombie Kid" book is slated to be released in January.

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Images: Left, Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever." Credit: Amulet Books. Right, "Diary of a Zombie Kid." Credit: Antarctic Press

British author sues Amazon over user review

AttemptedmurderofgodChris McGrath has sued Amazon and a customer who wrote a negative review of the book he was selling on the company's British website. The book, "The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need to Know," was published under the pen name "Scrooby." 

The reviews in question were by Vaughan Jones, who wrote critically of "The Attempted Murder of God" on the book's Amazon Web page in the fall of 2010. Jones also wrote an article for the website of the Richard Dawkins Foundation. The Telegraph reports that McGrath has filed a libel suitnaming Jones, Richard Dawkins, the Dawkins Foundation and Amazon.

The reviews in question were removed from the respective websites after news of the dispute.

Jones, 28 and a father of three, is said to be unable to afford legal representation. The Independent writes that the case has come to the attention of people urging reform of the libel laws in England.

Libel reform campaigners have expressed concern that the hearing is another example of how Britain’s defamation laws disproportionately favour claimants, closing down debate particularly among individuals and organisations who cannot afford costly legal battles. The Government is currently in the process of reforming Britain’s libel laws which have been described as some of the most restrictive in the western world.

John Kampfner, the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, one of the founding partners of the Libel Reform Campaign, said: “That a family man from Nuneaton can face a potentially ruinous libel action for a book review on Amazon shows how archaic and expensive our libel law is. We’re pushing the government to commit to a bill in the next Queen’s speech so that these chilling laws are reformed to protect freedom of expression.”

In a hearing expected to conclude today, a British court will decide if the case will go forward.

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