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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Romance Book Overlaps Don’t Prove Infringement

HOUSTON (CN) - Similarities between Harlequin's novel, "The Proud Wife," and a romance writer's unfinished work fall short of a copyright violation, a federal judge ruled.

Kelly Rucker had filed a federal complaint against Harlequin Enterprises in April 2012, claiming that the publisher plagiarized her novel "How to Love a Billionaire."

Though her book remains unfinished, Rucker allegedly submitted the first chapter and a plot synopsis to multiple romance-novel writing contests from 2009 to 2011.

Rucker claims the Romantic Writers of America sponsored the 2010 Spring Into Romance Contest, in which "How to Love a Billionaire" was a finalist. Such competitions often include Harlequin representatives, authors and editors as judges, according to the complaint.

A year later, Harlequin published "The Proud Wife," which Rucker says was so similar to her novel that she found more than 40 examples of direct copyright infringement.

The publisher argued that Rucker was merely speculating that it could access her work through the competition.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal dismissed the case with prejudice Tuesday. "This court does not resolve whether Harlequin accessed Rucker's work because, as explained below, there is no actionable similarity between the works and therefore no infringement," the 18-page opinion states.

None of the similarities between "The Proud Wife" and "How to Love a Billionaire" emerge "in legally protected elements," the court found.

"The similarities between the two works are in generic elements - features, plots, characters, and elements found in many romance novels," Rosenthal wrote. "A theme or trope that has long existed is not 'expression' that the Copyright Act protects."

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