(A digest of reading-related happenings from court cases across the country, for the month of January 2013.)
It was determined that a Colorado literary agency, at book fairs around the world, had misrepresented its relationship with the author of the novel Norwegian by Night. An English professor who specialized in rhetoric and plagiarism was not qualified to testify, as an expert witness, regarding the copyrightability of portions of a screenplay on which several writers had collaborated. Exempting copies of court cases and other legal research, the “Reading Materials / Papers” policy at the Winnebago County Jail in Wisconsin allowed a prisoner to be in possession of a stack of personal papers not taller than one inch.
The Oregon Department of Justice contended that the state’s correctional system should not have to provide a prisoner with a copy of the Satanic Bible, as he already had access to several other Satanic books. An inmate in Michigan was not entitled to the return of thirty-two African-American interest books, which had been “damaged with ink pens” and were confiscated pursuant to a policy banning any item that had been altered from its original state. A trial judge did not display bias when sentencing an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran to thirty-four years in prison for the sexual abuse of minors. Specifically, it was permissible for the judge to directly console one of the teenage victims, encourage her to take up gardening as a means of healing, and gift her a book and pen “because she [the teenage victim] was a writer.”
The author of the book The Preacher’s Son–But the Streets Turned Me Into a Gangster was not owed a portion of the profits of 50 Cent’s later-produced movie Before I Self-Destruct, though the two works did feature the following similar scenes: a gang member diluting drugs with mixing agents; a gang member decrying unstable and thieving relatives; and a gang member asking for God’s help. An unwelcome poet in Michigan, banned from participation in an open mic reading series at a local restaurant, sued the organizer of the series for libel. The court dismissed the poet’s lawsuit, as libel law requires proof of false statement; it was impossible to prove either the truth or the falsity of the reading series organizer’s assertion, made to a reporter for the Jackson Citizen Patriot, that the poet was a rude person.