Author Harper Lee made the news on Friday with the announcement that she had settled with two defendants in her battle to regain the copyright to To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee claimed to have been deceived into signing the rights over to the son-in-law of her former agent after suffering a stroke in 2007.
Lee isn’t the first author to have found herself headed to court, but she was lucky that her case had a happier resolution than some other cases that have put writers on the stand.
Here are five authors who went to court – and a couple who went to the slammer.
Rowling is no stranger to legal battles. The author was accused of plagiarism in 1999 and again in 2009 by the authors of two separate books – both of whom lost. In 2005, Warner Bros. offered the Canadian band ‘The Wyrd Sisters’ payment for the use of their name in the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire but the band refused and sued for $40 million – despite the fact their name was never used. The case was thrown out of court. Rowling has also blocked the publication of Harry Potter-related books by other authors, and this year accepted a payment to a charity as a settlement of her suit against her law firm after a partner let slip to a tweet-happy friend that she was real author of The Cuckoo’s Calling.
(JK Rowling Photo Credit: Daniel Ogren)
Dan Brown, the bestselling author of Inferno, was on the receiving end of a lawsuit by Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent, the authors of another bestseller, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Leigh and his co-author claimed that the premise for Brown’s blockbuster novel, The Da Vinci Code, was lifted from their non-fiction book which suggested that Mary Magdalene gave birth to the child of Jesus Christ and that the bloodline continues to present day. Although the sales of Leigh and Baigent’s book were actually boosted by the publication of Brown’s book – the fact that the case was thrown out of court and the pair had to pay back several million in court costs may have taken the bloom off that rose.
(Dan Brown Photo Credit: tonynetone)
Salinger may have been a recluse in later life, but that didn’t stop him from sending his lawyers after a Swedish author who tried to publish an unauthorized sequel to The Catcher in the Rye. The unpublished sequel caught up with Holden Caulfield 60 years later as a 76 year old who escaped his nursing home. The case was settled when the author of the sequel agreed not to publish it in the U.S. or Canada until The Catcher in the Rye enters the public domain.
Oscar Wilde, well-known playwright and author of The Picture of Dorian Gray, was in the unfortunate position of being a gay man at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in England. He also made unfortunate decision to go against the advice of his friends and sue for libel when the Marquess of Queensberry, the father of Wilde’s alleged lover, Alfred Douglas, named him a ‘sodomite’ in 1895. Queensberry used every means at his disposal to uncover Wilde’s true preferences, even stooping to entrapment. As the case turned against him, Wilde dropped the prosecution, but the damage was done: Forced to cover Queensberry’s legal costs Wilde was bankrupted, and worse he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ and sentenced to two years hard labor. Prison destroyed Wilde’s health and he died in poverty a few years after his release.
Archer, best-selling author of such books as Shall We Tell the President? and the Prodigal Daughter, should’ve learned from Wilde’s sad tale, but perhaps his rise to fame as one of the youngest Members of Parliament in the Conservative Party lent to the arrogance that saw him suffer a similar fate. When ‘The News of the World’ published allegations in 1987 of an assignation with a prostitute that led to him having to resign his position in Margaret Thatcher’s government, Archer sued for libel. Although he lost the case and went on to publish several more bestsellers, that wasn’t the end of it. During his run for Mayor of London in 2000, a friend and a former assistant contradicted evidence he gave in his ‘87 libel case. Archer was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice and sentenced to four years in prison. Ouch.