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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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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
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People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
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A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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