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One for the Books: 8 Literary Lawsuits

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You can't judge a book by its cover. Sometimes you need an actual court of law.

1. Harper Lee v. Samuel Pinkus

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch takes on a case he knows he'll lose and explains to Scout, "Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.” Now 87-year-old author Harper Lee's fighting her own courtroom battle and hoping justice is on her side. Lee claims she was duped into signing over her only novel's copyright to her literary agent, Samuel Pinkus, after suffering from a stroke in 2007. She regained rights last year and is now suing Pinkus for the royalties he's still collecting. Our biggest piece of legal advice: Ask yourself, WWAFD?

2. Darla Yoos, Edwin McCall, and Kerry Levine v. PublishAmerica

Struggling with ideas is only one form of writer's block. What happens when you can't get your published book read? In June 2012, three authors filed a class action lawsuit against print-on-demand book company PublishAmerica, citing deceptive trade practices. The plaintiffs claim the Maryland-based publisher is a vanity press, yet "presents itself as a traditional publisher." In addition to misrepresenting services and not promoting book sales, the lawsuit claims that published books are full of errors that PublishAmerica will only correct if the authors pay for it out of pocket. That's enough to make any book lover sic.

3. Ablene Cooper v. Kathryn Stockett

In The Help, a young journalist writes a book about the racism faced by black maids working for white families in the early 1960s. Author Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel and 2011 film weren't as groundbreaking as her character's fictional reporting, but they were still controversial. Stockett even said some people in Jackson, Mississippi, were upset at her. One of them is Ablene Cooper, a 60-year-old maid who claims the character Aibileen Clark is an unpermitted appropriation of her name and image. She's suing Stockett for $75,000 in damages. And here's where things get downright literary: Cooper just happens to be the maid for Stockett's older brother and sister-in-law. Is life imitating art, or is it the other way around?

4. Faulkner Literary Rights LLC v. Sony

Critics and audiences alike delighted in the fictional portrayals of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and other Jazz Age writers in Woody Allen's romantic comedy fantasy Midnight in Paris. William Faulkner, on the other hand, started penning his latest novel, As I Lay Suing. Well, his estate did on his behalf. In 2012, Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC sued Sony for copyright infringement, claiming that the studio didn't get permission for the character Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) to paraphrase Faulkner. The offending lines from the movie script: "The past is not dead! Actually, it's not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.” The actual lines by Faulkner in Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Sony defended the quote as fair use and called the lawsuit frivolous.

5. Charles Harris v. Oprah

An endorsement from the Almighty Oprah can launch a career. Charles Harris was hoping for just that when he sent a pamphlet he wrote called "How America Elects Her Presidents" to the talk show host in 2008. Alas, he never got a chance to sit on Oprah's couch. But Harris did visit his lawyer's office when Oprah repeated a question from his pamphlet in a segment about kids who know presidential trivia. Oprah's legal team proved that only one question just happened to be asked exactly as it was written in Harris's pamphlet. The $100 million lawsuit was dismissed when the judge ruled that presidential trivia is not copyrightable. Where would mental_floss be if it was?

6. Michelle Reinhart and Jean Price v. Greg Mortenson

Ever want your money back when a book doesn't live up to the hype? If author fraud and racketeering are involved, you might have a case. Two Democratic lawmakers from Montana filed a class action lawsuit against Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, after reports that charitable works in the best-selling non-fiction book were fabricated. The book has sold over four million copies since 2006, with proceeds going to Mortenson's Central Asia Institute. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but that's not always how the story goes. In 2007, Random House settled a class action lawsuit over James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, paying nearly $30,000 in reader refunds to people who bought the book before the author admitted it was fictionalized.

7. J.D. Salinger v. John David California

We all know that J.D. Salinger grew up to be a crotchety and litigious recluse. But how would his most famous character, Holden Caulfield, have turned out? In 2009, a Swedish author named Fredrik Colting (nom de plume: John David California), imagined Caulfield escaping from a New York City retirement home in a sequel called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. And faster than you can say "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," Salinger sued him. The lawsuit claimed that the sequel was neither a parody nor did it comment on the original work. There was even a question of whether Holden Caulfield might be a copyrightable character. The lawsuit was eventually settled in 2011 when Colting agreed not to sell the book in the U.S. or Canada until The Catcher in the Rye enters the public domain. Colting also had to change the title and any plans to dedicate the book to J.D. Salinger.

8. Patrick White v. Jay-Z

Jay-Z's got 99 problems, but this lawsuit ain't one. In June 2012, a man named Patrick White claimed that writing saved on his stolen laptop was later plagiarized in the 2010 book Decoded, a collection of Jay-Z lyrics and some of the stories behind them. The problem: Everyone knows Jay-Z wrote these rhymes. White still sued for copyright infringement and invasion of private property, as well as some cold cash money from book sales. Good luck with that, son.

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10 Terrific Facts About Stephen King
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Scott Eisen/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

As if being one of the world's most successful and prolific writers wasn't already reason enough to celebrate, Stephen King is ringing in his birthday as the toast of Hollywood. As It continues to break box office records, we're digging into the horror master's past. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Stephen King, who turns 70 years old today.

1. STEPHEN KING AND HIS WIFE, TABITHA, OWN A RADIO STATION.

Stephen and Tabitha King own Zone Radio, a company that serves to head their three radio stations in Maine. One of them, WKIT, is a classic rock station that goes by the tagline "Stephen King's Rock Station."

2. HE'S A HARDCORE RED SOX FAN.

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Not only did he write a story about the Boston Red Sox—The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (who was a former Red Sox pitcher)—he also had a cameo in the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie Fever Pitch, which is about a crazed Sox fan. He plays himself and throws out the first pitch at a game.

In 2004, King and Stewart O'Nan, another novelist, chronicled their reactions to the season that finally brought the World Series title back to Beantown. It's appropriately titled Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.

3. HE WAS HIT BY A CAR, THEN BOUGHT THE CAR THAT HIT HIM.

You probably remember that King was hit by a van not far from his summer home in Maine in 1999. The incident left King with a collapsed lung, multiple fractures to his hip and leg, and a gash to the head. Afterward, King and his lawyer bought the van for $1500 with King announcing that, "Yes, we've got the van, and I'm going to take a sledgehammer and beat it!"

4. AS A KID, HIS FRIEND WAS STRUCK AND KILLED BY A TRAIN.

King's brain seems to be able to create chilling stories at such an amazing clip, yet he's seen his fair share of horror in real life. In addition to the aforementioned car accident, when King was just a kid his friend was struck and killed by a train (a plot line that made it into his story "The Body," which was adapted into Stand By Me). While it would be easy to assume that this incident informed much of King's writing, the author claims to have no memory of the event:

"According to Mom, I had gone off to play at a neighbor’s house—a house that was near a railroad line. About an hour after I left I came back (she said), as white as a ghost. I would not speak for the rest of the day; I would not tell her why I’d not waited to be picked up or phoned that I wanted to come home; I would not tell her why my chum’s mom hadn’t walked me back but had allowed me to come alone.

"It turned out that the kid I had been playing with had been run over by a freight train while playing on or crossing the tracks (years later, my mother told me they had picked up the pieces in a wicker basket). My mom never knew if I had been near him when it happened, if it had occurred before I even arrived, or if I had wandered away after it happened. Perhaps she had her own ideas on the subject. But as I’ve said, I have no memory of the incident at all; only of having been told about it some years after the fact."

5. HE WROTE A MUSICAL WITH JOHN MELLENCAMP.

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King, John Mellencamp, and T Bone Burnett collaborated on a musical, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which made its debut in 2012. The story is based on a house that Mellencamp bought in Indiana that came complete with a ghost story. Legend has it that three siblings were messing around in the woods and one of the brothers accidentally got shot. The surviving brother and sister jumped in the car to go get help, and in their panic, swerved off the road right into a tree and were killed instantly. Of course, the three now haunt the woods by Mellencamp's house.

6. HE PLAYED IN A BAND WITH OTHER SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS.

King played rhythm guitar for a band made up of successful writers called The Rock Bottom Remainders. From 1992 to 2012, the band "toured" about once a year. In addition to King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening and Ridley Pearson were just some of its other members.

7. HE'S A NATIVE MAINER.

A photo of Stephen King's home in Bangor, Maine.
By Julia Ess - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

King writes about Maine a lot because he knows and loves The Pine Tree State: he was born there, grew up there, and still lives there (in Bangor). Castle Rock, Derry, and Jerusalem's Lot—the fictional towns he has written about in his books—are just products of King's imagination, but he can tell you exactly where in the state they would be if they were real.

8. HE HAS BATTLED DRUG AND ALCOHOL PROBLEMS.

Throughout much of the 1980s, King struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. In discussing this time, he admitted that, "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don't say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page."

It came to a head when his family members staged an intervention and confronted him with drug paraphernalia they had collected from his trash can. It was the eye-opener King needed; he got help and has been sober ever since.

9. THERE WAS A RUMOR THAT HE WROTE A LOST TIE-IN NOVEL.

King was an avid Lost fan and sometimes wrote about the show in his Entertainment Weekly column, "The Pop of King." The admiration was mutual. Lost's writers mentioned that King was a major influence in their work. There was a lot of speculation that he was the man behind Bad Twin, a Lost tie-in mystery, but he debunked that rumor.

10. HE IS SURROUNDED BY WRITERS.

A photo of Stephen King's son, author Joe Hill
Joe Hill
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Stephen isn't the only writer in the King family: His wife, Tabitha King, has published several novels. Joe, their oldest son, followed in his dad's footsteps and is a bestselling horror writer (he writes under the pen name Joe Hill). Youngest child Owen has written a collection of short stories and one novella and he and his dad co-wrote Sleeping Beauties, which will be released later this month (Owen also married a writer). Naomi, the only King daughter, is a minister and gay activist.

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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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