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Literature is the effort of man to indemnify himself for the wrongs of his condition. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walter Savage Landor. From The Dial

It makes great good sense and will teach Random House a thing or two. One of the things it will teach it is to be more careful. I’m not sure what the second one is but perhaps we’ll learn what that is as time goes on.

And for our education we must thank the law firm of Napoli Bern Ripka LLP and more specifically Mr. Ripka. He is suing Random House on behalf of a California resident by the name of Karen Futernick for having published “A Million Little Pieces” that she and others believed to be an autobiographical work by its author, James Frey.

Karen, one would surmise from the filing of the lawsuit, is an incredibly successful businessperson, notwithstanding her apparent inability to read fast. What leads us to think so? The $50 million in damages she is seeking. That sum would be justifiable only if Karen earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a day and spent a lot of days not earning that because she was slowly working her way through the book. (Since Karen’s name is so unusual I should mention that the person who brought the lawsuit who lives in California is not the same Karen Futernick as the one who has a company called Ozone Travel. That Karen Futernick is a delightful person with whom I spoke and she knows nothing of either the lawsuit or her namesake.)

Using the good offices of Mr. Ripka that other Karen is suing Random House and Doubleday for $50 million because it published “Million Little Pieces” without disclosing what it didn’t know, i.e. that the book was not autobiographical. (Readers of newspapers or followers of Oprah Winfrey know by now that the book in question misrepresented the life story of James Frey, its author, who nonetheless insists that what he wrote is a very good book and who probably hopes that people will continue to buy it.) Ms. Futernick read the book and the whole time she read it she enjoyed it and thought it was autobiographical. Then the dreadful truth came out. It was not autobiographical. The pleasure she derived from reading the book believing it true was converted into anger when the truth was out. She had been deceived by the author whom she had never met. She had been deceived by Random House. She was furious. She had wasted precious time reading something she enjoyed reading until she found out she wasn’t reading what she thought she was reading.

When asked, Karen said, probably somewhat peevishly that she wanted her $14.95 back, saying, “They [Random House] have an obligation to check.” In addition to the $14.95 she wants $50 million. (If she gets her refund my guess is she’ll settle for $49,999,985.05. She’s not trying to get an unreasonable windfall).

Karen is not alone. Jennifer Cohen is a Manhattan social worker with somewhat more highly developed reading skills than Karen. According to a report in Fox she claims she was “injured” by Mr. Frey’s writing. According to the report she claimed to have recommended the book to “several people who were struggling with substance abuse or brushes with the law.” Having made the recommendations only to find that they were bad recommendations (the same sort of thing that happened to Oprah Winfrey) she now wants more than a refund of the purchase price. She wants $10 million and has brought suit to recover that amount.

For those readers who may have also bought and read the book who now have regrets and would like to get several million dollars to assuage their grief at the deception, Mr. Ripka, the lawyer who is handling Karen’s suit, can be found in New York City. Commenting on the suit he asked the very relevant question: “How do you produce a book, call it nonfiction and sell it without checking out the stories in it? All they had to do was a little due diligence…make a few phone calls.” Having done the extensive legal research necessary to bring the first lawsuit Mr. Ripka would very likely welcome additional plaintiffs to join Karen.

Even though Random House is a really big company, it gives the impression that it lacks business sense. Commenting on those two lawsuits as well as others that have been filed, Russell Perreault, a spokesman for the company said unhappy readers could get refunds from their bookstore. He obviously hasn’t taken measure of the plaintiffs if he thinks a $14.95 refund will get rid of a $50 million or even $10 million lawsuit. The company should at the very least offer to pay disgruntled purchasers twice what they paid. The purchasers could then pay their lawyer $14.95 and keep $14.95. That seems, at least to this lawyer, like a good result.

Share  Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 6:22 PM | Permalink

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