Publisher of Kiddie Versions of ‘Classics’ Sued

MANHATTAN (CN) – An author who repurposes kiddie versions of classic novels now faces a lawsuit for copyright infringement filed by two major publishers and the estates of literary greats such as Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac.

Los Angeles-based couple Frederik Colting and Melissa Medina, working under the banner of Moppet Books, created the KinderGuides series of illustrated, abridged versions of  “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” “On The Road” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” for children.

The publishing companies Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, along with the estates of authors Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Arthur C. Clarke and Jack Kerouac, filed the federal complaint on Jan. 19, accusing Colting and Medina of appropriating copyrighted material.

Colting bristled at the charge in an email, citing the publishers’ combined billions of dollars revenue.

“It is hard, especially as a small publisher, not to feel as if we are being bullied by these big publishers for something that is meant to provide a better environment for literature in the future,” he said.

The “publishing world squashes creativity in a field where new ideas are sorely needed,” Colting added. “But we will fight for our rights to continue to publish KinderGuides, as we firmly believe that study guides play an important part in understanding our culture.”

Penguin’s 42-page complaint says Moppet Books “proceeds to brazenly infringe the rights of different authors, and the author’s heirs and publishers, in complete disregard of copyright law.”

The publishers call each of the four KinderGuides “nothing other than an unauthorized derivative work, taking its plot, settings, themes, sequence of events, and principal characters from each of the Novels wholesale, repackaging these copyrightable elements in condensed, abridged and illustrated form, and doing nothing whatsoever to transform, comment upon, or criticize them.”

KinderGuides describes its mission on its website as fostering children’s lifelong appreciation for classic literature at a young age: “Through visually stunning illustrations and simplified, educational content, we explore these timeless stories and the cultures that spawned them.”

Colting and his wife told The New York Times in December 2016 that they hope to publish 50 books in the KinderGuide series.

“We feel that we are protected by law to provide a literary commentary on these classic novels,” Colting said in an email to Courthouse News about the new lawsuit. “We are doing nothing different than what the many other educational publishers providing study guides [such as Cliff’s Notes, Sparknotes and others] have been doing for many years.”

This isn’t the first time Colting has found himself embroiled in a copyright lawsuit. His purported “sequel” to J.D. Salinger’s revered “The Catcher in the Rye” landed him in court with Salinger’s estate, where his fair use claims were rejected. He ultimately settled and withdrew copies from North America.

The KinderGuides lawsuit noted that Colting “has the temerity to claim on the KinderGuide website that an upcoming title is none other than ‘Catcher in the Rye.'”

Other future titles announced in the KinderGuides series are Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Some of these works are in the public domain and so should not present any copyright snags for KinderGuides.

The plaintiffs are represented by Marcia Paul at Davis Wright Tremaine in New York City.

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