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Saturday, April 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Artist’s Estate Sues to Stop Planned Book by Scholastic

A children’s book about self-taught primitive artist James Castle infringes on Castle’s works, the artist’s archive says in an Idaho copyright infringement lawsuit.

(CN) – A children’s book about self-taught primitive artist James Castle infringes on Castle’s works, the artist’s archive says in an Idaho copyright infringement lawsuit.

Artist and writer Allen Say wrote “Silent Days, Silent Dreams,” a children’s book about the American artist James Castle, set to be published by Scholastic. Castle’s archive says the book violates the late artist’s copyrights. Billed as fiction, Say’s book depicts Castle as autistic and dyslexic, neither of which can be verified, the archive says.

Born deaf and mute in 1899, Castle taught himself to create art with found objects like paper and soot mixed with saliva. He lived in Idaho his entire life, and eventually his work was discovered by the wider art world.

Collections of his art have been displayed at prestigious institutions like the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Whitney Museum.

The Boise-based James Castle Collection and Archive sued Scholastic and Say in Idaho’s federal court on claims of copyright infringement.

“Many of the illustrations are intended to evoke and imitate the artistic style of James Castle,” the archive says in the lawsuit.

“However, over two dozen of Mr. Say’s illustrations are far more than a tribute, comprising substantially similar if not virtually identical copies of James Castle’s distinctive, singular works.”

Almost 30 of Say’s illustrations infringe on Castle’s art, the archive claims.

In addition to the infringing drawings, the archive claims the book depicts Castle “in a questionable light based on unverifiable theories about his life and abilities.”

“The book portrays James Castle as an unhappy, developmentally disabled child who was abused by his family and locked in an attic,” the complaint says. “It also claims that Castle was bullied in school and punished by his teachers for his artistic efforts.  In addition, in his author’s note, Mr. Say describes James Castle as autistic and dyslexic, and it can be inferred from this that Mr. Say’s portrayal of James Castle is intended to reflect this theory.”

Say is a well-known writer and illustrator, perhaps best known for his children’s books. He won the 1994 Caldecott Medal for his book “Grandfather’s Journey,” about his Japanese grandfather’s trip from his homeland to the United States.

The lawsuit shows 28 different side-by-side comparisons of Castle’s original works next to Say’s drawings. The archive says there may be even more infringing works, and it plans to amend the complaint with more allegations.

The Castle archive says it reached out to both Scholastic and Say, and offered to review an advance copy of the book. The company declined the request and Say did not respond, according to the complaint.

The archive seeks an injunction preventing the release of “Silent Days, Silent Dreams,” which is set to be released at the end of the month, and $150,000 in damages for each infringing work.

It is represented by Dana Herberholz of Parsons Behle & Latimer in Boise.

A Scholastic representative said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Categories / Arts, Courts

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