Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003476, Sat, 7 Nov 1998 10:02:47 -0800

FS&G Drops the LOLITA Spinoff (fwd)
From: Galya Diment <galya@u.washington.edu>

>From today's New York Times:

Disputed 'Lolita' Spinoff Is Dropped by Publisher


In an abrupt reversal that ends a tangled legal and literary confrontation,
Farrar, Straus & Giroux said on Friday that it had canceled plans to publish a
retelling of "Lolita" from the nymphet's point of view, in part because of
copyright concerns by some of the publishing house's own writers.

The estate of Vladimir Nabokov filed suit in Federal court last month to
block American and British publication of the book, "Lo's Diary," by Pia Pera,
an Italian short-story writer, calling it a "rip-off" of the legally protected
original, published in 1955. The new novel, in the form of a diary by Lolita
giving her version of the scandalous love affair with her stepfather, has been
published to mixed reviews in Italy and six other countries.

The lawsuit, which Farrar, Straus & Giroux contested and has now agreed to
settle, raised far-reaching questions that lawyers said had never been
resolved by the courts, including the degree to which a character in a
copyrighted literary work can be reused by another author.

Ms. Pera, reached in Italy, said she deplored the decision but that she did
not plan to sue.

Lawyers said it was not clear whether MacMillan, which had planned to bring
out the book in Britain and was named as a co-defendant with Farrar, Straus in
the lawsuit, intended to proceed with publication.

Roger W. Straus, president and chief executive of the publishing house, said
he decided to cancel its planned publication next July despite objections from
his editor in chief, Jonathan Galassi, in response to concerns by some of his
writers that their creations could be appropriated through the same literary
license claimed by Farrar, Straus.

The publishing house is now owned by Holtzbrinck, the German publishing
conglomerate, but the decision against publication was made by Mr. Straus
alone, all parties agreed.

Mr. Straus said he had been questioning his decision to publish "Lo's Diary"
since the uproar began. " 'Is this good for literature or bad for literature?'
is the question we have been asking ourselves," he said. "Are we standing up
for writers and for literature by proceeding to publish Pia Pera or by
acceding to the wishes of the Nabokov estate?"

In the end, he said, "I don't think it right for any publisher to feed off
the reputation of a literary person." He declined to name any of the authors
who had voiced concern about the planned publication.

The cancellation was welcomed by Peter L. Skolnik, a lawyer for Dmitri
Nabokov, the sole heir and executor of his father's estate. "Dmitri is, of
course, enormously pleased and joins me in thinking it is the right outcome
for the right reasons," Mr. Skolnik said. He said the decision to sue had also
been difficult because, given the history of controversy over "Lolita," "few
writers have stood more for the right of free expression than Nabokov."

But the estate had to respond to what he called "esthetic and literary
vampirism," Mr. Skolnick added.

If the appropriation claimed by Farrar, Straus and Ms. Pera had been allowed
to stand, he said, "the next author is free to say, 'Ahh, there's a good idea:
I'll tell it from the perspective of a another character.' "

Why would motion picture producers pay writers for their creations "if they
could just change the perspective and get away with it?" he added.

Leon Friedman, a lawyer for Farrar, Straus who had been prepared to defend
the book as a "fair use" and artistic transformation of Nabokov's work, called
Mr. Straus's action "a literary decision."

From the Greek legend of "Pygmalion," which became a George Bernard Shaw
play and then "My Fair Lady," literary characters and entire works have long
been fodder for other writers but usually the works are out of copyright.
"Lolita," published in the United States by Random House, is under copyright
until the year 2030.

Ms. Pera, 42, reached at home in the Tuscan countryside near Lucca, said she
had heard about the cancellation only hours before in a call from one of her
editors. "I was disappointed," she said. "I thought they were going to fight
for it. This way we will never know if we could have won."

"I feel what is at stake here are two fundamental rights clashing:

property rights and the right of free expression," she said. "My book is on
some kind of frontier between the two."

She said that if it were possible to secure publication by giving up any
economic gain from her book, she would agree. She also said she did not intend
to sue Farrar, Straus to enforce publication. The book, first published in
Italy in 1995, later came out in Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany,
Finland and Greece. It was also bought by a French publisher who later dropped
it and turned out to be a cousin of Dmitri Nabokov, Ms. Pera said.

Mr. Skolnik said although the Nabokov estate did not sue those publishers at
the time, legal action was still under consideration.

Mr. Straus's decision to cancel publication was strongly opposed by Mr.
Galassi, editor in chief and executive vice president at Farrar, Straus, and
by Ethan Nosowsky, the editor who worked with Mr. Galassi to prepare the
manuscript for publication.

Mr. Straus said they had argued strenuously for publication but not
acrimoniously. "It was an intellectual debate, not who shot John," he said.

He also said the case raised important questions that would remain
unresolved, at least until another publisher came along to take up the book.
"From a lawyer's point of view," Mr. Straus said, "it would have been a
delicious case."

Saturday, November 7, 1998
<A HREF="aol://4344:104.nytcopy.6445375.574106743">Copyright 1998 The New York