Judge rules kids’ versions of classic novels violate copyrights

A federal judge has ruled that the publisher of popular kids’ versions of books by Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote and Arthur C. Clarke is infringing on the copyrights of the famous novelists.

Moppet Books last year had pumped out 20,000 copies each of illustrated books based on Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Kerouac’s On the Road, Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Clarke’s 2001: a Space Odyssey.

The idea was to make the literary classics accessible to kids as young as six.

But the estates of the four literary lions joined Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House in a suit in January when Kinderguides Books, the parent of Moppet Books, refused earlier demands to stop publishing.

The books had been subject to some glowing press, including a New York Times article in late December entitled, “Forget Pat the Bunny. My Kid’s Reading Hemingway.”

“The ruling recognizes the clearly infringing nature of the Kinderguides Books and unambiguously supports copyright holders ability to exercise control over publication of their works,” said a joint statement from the authors’ estates and the two publishing companies.

Kinderguides said it plans to appeal the ruling by US District Judge Jed Rakoff.

“It’s fair to say that we are disappointed in the ruling,” Kinderguides co-founder Frederik Colting told Media Ink.

The Swedish book publisher had joined with his romantic and business partner, graphic artist Melissa Medina to launch the company last year.

“Greed is allowed to trump what we feel is a ground-breaking venture that was for the benefit of our literary future,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s nothing new about big corporations bullying a small company and robbing them of their creativity.”

“But, you go in the ocean and you risk getting bit by a shark,” Colting said, adding “In our case, it happened to be a penguin,” referring to the fact that Penguin Random House was among the plaintiffs.

The boutique publisher is plowing ahead to publish children’s editions this fall including Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Homer’s The Odyssey, as well as biographies of Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey.

Colting said the company still hopes to ultimately do kids’ versions of 50 classic novels.
But the publishers of the original works still under copyright are likely to object. Facing legal challenges, Colting has already dropped plans to publish illustrated versions of Harper Lee’s To…

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