Twain Haunts Hachette in Copyright Suit

     WACO, Texas (CN) – The spirit of Mark Twain – a champion of copyright law – is haunting Hachette, which published a book about Twain’s life with 40 pages plagiarized from two other books, a federal lawsuit claims.
     The lawsuit involves “Mark Twain’s America: A Celebration in Words and Images,” co-authored by the Library of Congress and the former head curator of its prints and photographs division, Harry L. Katz.
     Published in 2014 by Hachette subsidiary Little, Brown & Co., the book contains 300 black-and-white photographs from the Library of Congress’ collection and a “lively narrative” about Twain’s life by Katz, the library said in a statement.
     R. Kent Rasmussen, Chie Nishio Trager and her son Oliver Trager sued Hachette Book Group dba Little, Brown & Company and Katz on May 5.
     The Hachette Book Group is the U.S. arm of Hachette Livre, a French publisher. The Library of Congress is not a defendant.
     Rasmussen says his years of studying Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain led to his writing a 600-page book, “Mark Twain A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Writings,” published in 1995.
     “According to many Mark Twain scholars, the most important part of Rasmussen’s work is the detailed 15-page chronology that appears at the beginning of Rasmussen’s work,” the complaint states.
     “The Rasmussen chronology lists events in Mark Twain’s life that were specifically selected by Mr. Rasmussen out of tens of thousands of historically significant facts regarding Twain,” according to the complaint.
     Rasmussen says the chronology includes his “own unique expressions and phraseology.”
     His co-plaintiff Chie Trager is the widow of James Trager, author of the 1979 work “The People’s Chronology: A Year-by-Year Record of Human Events from Prehistory to the Present.”
     When Trager died in 2012, the book’s copyrights passed to his wife and his son, the family says in the lawsuit.
     According to Rasmussen and the Tragers, Katz took much of his book’s text from their books without attribution.
     “Out of approximately 98.2 pages of textual material presented in the infringing work as allegedly being original textual material (not including photographs and quotes with proper attribution), approximately 40 pages worth of textual material appears to be unauthorized copies of material copied from the Rasmussen Chronology and TPC,” the lawsuit states. [Parentheses in complaint.]
     “If accurate, this means that approximately 40 percent of the total textual material claimed as an original work of authorship in the infringing work is actually plagiarized material,” the complaint continues.
     The Library of Congress admitted as much in December, stating on its website: “The Library of Congress has determined and regrets that our regular and rigorous review processes were not followed in the editing of the recent publication ‘Mark Twain’s America.’
     “We are moving to correct resulting problems by working with both the author and editor to conduct a full cover-to-cover review of the book. Any errors or omissions discovered or otherwise brought to our attention will be corrected in any forthcoming editions.”
     The library released an 8-page errata sheet that lists all the factual errors and unattributed sources for “Mark Twain’s America,” including an acknowledgement that it gleaned material from Rasmussen’s and Trager’s books.
     But Katz and the library’s promise to make the corrections in future editions doesn’t satisfy Rasmussen or the Tragers.
     They seek punitive damages for copyright infringement, unjust enrichment and unfair competition. They also want an accounting of sales and defendants “ordered to deliver up for potential destruction all unauthorized and infringing material.”
     They are represented by John Powell with Naman, Howell, Smith & Lee of Waco.
     A Hachette spokeswoman said the publisher had not been served with the lawsuit and declined comment.
     A call and text to a number listed for Katz were not answered.
     Twain and Charles Dickens were leaders in the fight to establish international copyright. Both authors lost considerable sums of money to pirates who obtained Dickens volumes in England to publish in America, and Twain’s books in America to publish in Europe, without granting the authors a cent.
     Twain introduced the all-white suit he made famous on a visit to Washington, D.C., in which he testified to Congress about the need for international copyright and for extended terms for copyrights, which then were limited to 14 years with one extension.
     Asked by a congressman how long he thought a copyright should last, Twain replied: “One million years.”

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