Author Laura Albert is shelling out $116,500 to Antidote International Films thanks to a New York court that has found Albert guilty of defrauding the film company.  Antidote sued the author after finding out she was the writer of an autobiography featuring the story of an underage male prostitute, a story for which they had recently bought the film rights.  The company’s case against Albert was that she signed contracts under the name of her character.  Their case was strengthened by the fact that friends of hers posed as the protagonist at book signings.

This is not the first time fiction that has been presented as fact has been under scrutiny.  Once upon a time in the not-too-distant past, James Frey was under fire after it was revealed that his autobiography “A Million Little Pieces” was a little more fiction than fact, although he backed the entire work as truth from the time he gave it to publishers.  Oprah Winfrey and her Book Club were outraged, as they had supported the book and made it part of the reading list.

One blogger gives his take on the Frey controversary, and perhaps is a little harsh: http://bookfraud.blogspot.com/2006_01_01_archive.html

There are other examples of authors presenting fact as fiction.  Stephen King has written novels under the guise of his alter ego Richard Bachman.  Bret Easton Ellis’ last novel, “Lunar Park”, is written as a memoir, and he leaves it to the reader to distinguish what is fact and what is fiction.

Another example is ghostwriting, in which the author’s name on the cover is not the person who actually wrote the work, a tactic common with autobiographies.  This is perfectably acceptable legally, although one could argue that buyers become victims of false advertising. 

Albert used both the pseudonym argument and alter ego argument, but to no avail.  Of course, Albert probably should not have carried it so far as to sign contracts under her character’s name.  Has Stephen King ever signed official documents as Richard Bachman?  Probably not.  Would he stand a better chance in court?  Maybe.

Antidote has cancelled plans to create the film based on Albert’s work, although they own the rights for another year.  But now comes the big question:  Why sue?  Was anyone hurt by these contracts?  Did it change anything?  Once Antidote found out the author’s real identity, couldn’t the contracts have been reprinted, resigned?  Easily.  Are the meaning and the themes and the drama of the novel any less true?  Of course not.  There was really no need to take this matter to court, and there is even less reason for Antidote to cancel the project.

Ironically, this book also caught the attention of Gus Van Sant, a filmmaker who provided a quote for Frey’s book.  Incidentally, Bret Easton Ellis also provided a quote.  You can see them both here: http://www.uppercasebookstore.com/page17.html

When Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code” became popular, many bookstores mistook if for non-fiction and placed it as such, though Brown stated that it is a work of fiction, though he uses factual elements (as many authors do).  However, bookstores are not being sued for presenting fiction as fact. 

Where is the line drawn?  An author’s job, passion, is to present the public with stories.  Would an author be under as much scrutiny and criticism if he or she was to present a factual work as fiction?  Why the lawsuit?  Why the scandal?  Why is it people only like to be deceived when they know they’re being deceived? 

You can read the details of Albert’s case here: http://enews.earthlink.net/article/ent?guid=20070622/467b4940_3421_13345200706222085316661  

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