Judge rules classic picturebooks infringe copyright

Judge rules classic picturebooks infringe copyright

A judge in the US has ruled that unauthorised children’s picturebooks based on classics infringe the copyright of the originals published by Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster US.

District judge Jed Rakoff found that the Kinderguide series of children's versions classics published by Moppet Books infringe the original books’ copyright and that fair use was not a defence.

Moppet Books founders Frederik Colting and Melisssa Medinia released kids versions of titles including Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (originally Penguin Random House), Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (originally PRH), 2001, A Space Odyssey (originally PRH) by Arthur C Clarke and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (originally S&S imprint Scribner).

In an interview with Publishers Weekly when the pair set out, Medina said they didn’t just want to turn the classics into children’s versions, but “bigger picture” books about classics. The guides each featured a story summary, a section about the life of the author, key words, main characters, a quiz, analysis and takeaways from the story with the aim of encouraging readers to engage with the book in a variety of ways.

But publishers PRH and S&S and the estates of Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac, Arthur C Clarke, and Ernest Hemingway, initiated an infringement suit against the books in January after defendants refused to stop publishing them.

According to US trade journal Law360, Medinia and Colting had argued that their work did not infringe copyright because the novels were “sanitised” when the pair put in sections that identified key words and main characters.

However, the judge was sceptical of the transformation arguments and said the Moppet Books version of The Old Man and the Sea was “overwhelmingly such a regurgitation” of Hemingway’s original that the guide had just been reduced to a third or a quarter of its original size. He went on to grant summary judgements to the plaintiffs on all nine counts of copyright infringement and rejected Moppet's defence of fair use.

In response to the ruling the plaintiffs issued a statement saying: “Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and the Estates of the authors whose books were involved are pleased by the court’s ruling in favour of their joint motion for summary judgment.

“The ruling recognises the clearly infringing nature of the Kinderguides Books and unambiguously supports copyright holders’ ability to exercise control over the publication of their works.”

Colting previously published 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye under the pseudonym John David California in the UK but in 2011, before his death, J D Salinger obtained a court order stating it could never be released in the US.

Judge Rakoff he would issue a “bottom line ruling” on the case in the next two weeks to be followed by a more detailed order.