A zochen vay! (“What a pain!) That’s what Barbara Davilman and Ellis Weiner might’ve said when they were served with a lawsuit by Pearson Education, the publishing company that owns the copyright to the Dick and Jane reading primers (Primer Spoof With Yiddish Faces Suit (in English)). I’ve posted here about their adorable Yiddish with Dick & Jane, a send up of the children’s readers with which we all grew up. Before publishing, Little Brown, their publisher negotiated an agreement with Pearson which provided for several prominent warnings on the book saying it “has not been prepared, approved or authorized by the creators or producers of the ‘Dick and Jane’ reading primers for children.”
So nu, what’s the problem? Well, it appears that Pearson (for a book publisher, it seems to have very poor judgment about what makes a successful title) thought Yiddish with Dick & Jane was going to turn out to be some shmate that would cause nary a ripple in the publishing world. Say what? You mean to tell me that they couldn’t tell that a Yiddish spoof of Dick & Jane wasn’t going to tickle the fancy of Jews and non-Jewish Yiddish lovers everywhere??
Now that the book is selling like hotcakes (ranked #74 at Amazon.com), Pearson’s changed its tune. “Not so fast, Mr. Big Shot!” say the real Dick & Jane. They claim that Yiddish With Dick & Jane is not a parody (which would be protected speech under copyright), but an imitation (unprotected). Huh? How is taking an iconic, but vacuous book like Dick & Jane and turning it into a knowing moral fable replete with Jewish homosexuals, philanderers, schnorrers and other reprobates–how is this NOT a parody?? Is this book a parody? Is the pope Catholic?
I say: “A shande” on Pearson for trying to schnorr a few shekels from Little, Brown once they discovered the book was a major hit. Where’s my proof?
Earlier this month, when Pearson filed the suit, its lawyer, Stephen W. Feingold, wrote to the plaintiffs offering to discuss a settlement and saying that it had initially “decided not to sue over a title it thought would not be commercially successful.”
Why is this case important? A few of my readers may’ve read the numerous posts I’ve written about copyright and fair use. As someone who was once threatened with an infringement lawsuit for a blog post I wrote, I’m very concerned about the misuse of copyright by rights holders. Some in the world and music industry argue for a draconian interpretation of their rights which may not withstand the test of a legal challenge. I’m guessing that any judge with a bit of saychel and who’s a maven when it comes to knowing a good joke will throw this case out with prejudice and award legal fees to the defendant.