Monday, June 12, 2006

Lewis Perdue and Dan Brown

Last Friday I was pretty dismissive of Lewis Perdue's complaints against Dan Brown, so I think it is only fair that I should fish out his comment on my post and put it on the front page, otherwise you might miss it. So here it is:

You know, it's really easy to lose in court when the judge refuses to allow the strongest evidence to be presented. This is precisely what happened when the judge in my case disallowed the sworn statements of the expert witnesses.

There was never a trial, never a hearing on the evidence. The Random House "victory" in court is a sham: all about manipulating the system and nothing about justice.

And don't forget, please, that Random House sued me...not the other way around.

The truth is, of course, that I know nothing whatever about the rights and wrongs of this case. (If you want to make your own mind up, start with Perdue's legal resources page.) I don't think I had ever heard of Lewis Perdue's book until the reports of the Vanity Fair article started to appear. So if I was dismissive I was simply saying that I am a little weary of reading about these issues.

Not only weary but leery too. I am not a lawyer, and have no detailed knowledge of the case law relating to copyright in either the UK or the USA. What I do have is several decades of reading about and hearing about cases in which writers feel that they have been ripped off.

For example: the Ladies Night versus Full Monty case. The authors of the stage play Ladies Night felt that the movie The Full Monty was a rip-off of their play. So did I, having seen both. So did a commenter on the IMDb page for The Full Monty. (The comment, by susanxx, now seems to have been removed, but for the moment you can still find it cached on Google.)

The authors of Ladies Night made several attempts to get compensation, in more than one country. And lost each time. Their Hollywood attorney said, 'I've been doing this for 40 years, and this is as solid a copyright case as I've ever seen.' But they still lost.

Even if you win, you can still lose. At any rate in England. There was the case (it's not on the net and I don't remember all the details so I am going to leave out the names I do remember) of the man who opened a newspaper and found an article about a pop star, by a well known British journalist. He considered that this article made excessive, and uncredited, use of his book on the pop star. So he sued. And won. Was paid £8,000 in damages. Legal costs, which he had to meet: £20,000.

And then there's the case of Baigent et al versus Dan Brown. Those guys ended up nearly if not actually bankrupt.

No, no. It's not smart, in my opinion, to go around complaining that somebody stole your ideas. Even if it's true, it looks like sour grapes and it looks as if you're simply chasing the money. And it certainly isn't smart to take the case to court; not in England, anyway.

The best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut, let others comment if they see fit (like that clear-thinking fan on IMDb), and just get on with your next book or whatever.


Susan Hill said...

It is extraordinary how ideas float in the ether and two people can pick them up - and then accuse one another of copying. But there have of course been celebrated cases where actual text in whole chunks was lifted .. Princess Michael of Kent did it in one of her'history' books, a young american who had been advanced a ludicrous amount of money has sunk without trace - so has her novel - because she cut and pasted whole pages from other people`s work. This is the easy case to prosecute. It`s the ideas cases which will never win because it is almost impossible to prove that someone pinched someone else`s idea . usually because they didn`t.

Annette said...

If you feel somone has copied your idea and there is enough evidence to prove it,then yes, you should sue them.Why should they get all the credit for something you have worked so hard for.
It's like libel or slander, you do take a chance in court and you would have to weigh up the evidence before you even start.
Even if you walk away with very little financial reward, it's the satisfaction you would get,knowing you have won the case.

Lewis Perdue said...

Susan: I agree with you completely. Ideas can't be copyrighted. My issue is with the very specific characters, motivations, actions, sequence of events etc. that were copied.

And I agree with the Grumpy Old Bookman that I'd really rather just forget about it.

This all started when readers began to email me in droves about the plagiarism. I was skeptical but bought Dan Brown's book.

When I read DVCode, I was less skeptical and wrote Random House a polite, private letter. They responded by rolling a hand grenade through the door and slamming it ...

I was an investigative reporter in another life and have had the pleasure of sending a number of people to jail including a Congressman (Richard Hanna of Calif ....)

My instincts developed from being an investigative reporter tell me that when someone responds that way, then something is wrong.

Reasonable, innocent people don't do that. Random House's very nasty, threatening letter left me the hunch that they were very touchy about something that they wanted to hide.

Then and only then did I go public.

ivan said...

Resecharche de temps perdu.

--My French should really be better, since I'm Canadian, but I live in Central Ontario and there is this echo of some fine lady from Mount Albert, Ontario who tried to sue H.G. Wells over what she claimed was an almost word-for-word lift of what she claimed had been her submitted manuscript of The Outline of History.
Mr. Wells' publishers seemed to have behaved in the same way as Dan Brown's towards Mr. Perdue back there in the late
Well crap. I like to think I myself produce original work, but lately, hardly anybody gives a damn.
How sorely I am tempted to steal from somebody really good, like the late John Champlin Gardner.
How I would have loved to have written Mickelsson's Ghosts.
Hell I think I'll steal it anyway and send it in as an original manuscript and see what happens.
Fame at any cost, I say!