where the writers are
The important case of Laura Albert aka J.T. Le Roy versus Antidote

The Author"s Guild helps hundreds of authors negotiate and enforce their publishing contracts and they were naturally very concerned about the recent decision brought against Laura Albert aka J.T. LeRoy. Laura Albert wrote her book, "Sarah" under a pseudonym--a time-honored device--think of George Elliot, George Sand, the Bronte sisters. Yet because Laura signed a contract using her assumed name, Antidote International Films sued her for breach of contract and Fraud. In fact according to the Amicus brief sent out by the Author's Guild, Antidote had all the rights it needed to make the film and the decision against Laura should be overturned. If it remains the decision would have far-reaching implications. Among the most serious is the fact that it would strip authors of the ability to evade political persecution by writing under assumed names.  I thought other authors might want to add their support.

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While the writer portion of

While the writer portion of my self greatly admires the whole J.T. Leroy escapade, my lawyer self is puzzled by this case, as your report it.  I don't do civil litigation, but my understanding of fraud is that it requires a misrepresentation of a material fact made with the intent of inducing somone to rely on that misrempresentation to their detriment.  So if I call myself "Bob Levin," instead of "Robert Levin," my legal name, no harm, no foul, unless I'm trying to pass myself off as some other "Bob Levin" and gain an advantage thereby.

I Googled "Laura Albert" and didn't find much light shed on the suit, but I did learn that it seemed to have been more than about her name.  It included her having passed herself off as an entirely different person than who she was.  A lot of this has been going on recently anyway, it seems, -- teenage Hispanics who turn out to be old white guys; Holocaust survivors who weren't really raised by wolves -- and I'm not suggesting Albert shouldn't be supported by other writers, but I don't think those fleeing political prosecution need burn their manuscripts just yet. 

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Important case

Bob, I know there were a whole lot of other pony and dog show aspects to Laura's story but the case itself only involves the use of a false name. I'm no lawyer but when I spoke to the Lawyer at The Author's Guild, she told me she thought it was an important. Maybe if you look under Author's Guild Amicus Brief you could get the brief itself. I'd be curious to see what you think.

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I don't know if anyone's

I don't know if anyone's reading this besides us, but I took your tip (Thanks!) and read the Guild's brief.  You are exactly right.  It's position seems to be that Albert was behaving in the time-honored tradition of writing under a pseudonym and that she properly signed the contract under this name.  She properly confirmed that she was the sole author and that she properly sold the rights to the book.  (Why the Guild took this narrow a position I don't know.  Maybe it believed the narrower it made the issue, the better Albert's case.  Maybe that was the only issue it was concerned with.)

I then kept Googling and found a half dozen NY Times artricles about the case.  the film maker's position was that besides buying the book, it was buying "the identity of the book's author."  It thought it was buying a teenage drug addict/street hustler from West Virginia, not a 40 year old woman from Brooklyn.  It wanted this "autobiographical back story" because it was planning to make a film interblending this life and its resultant art.  (It even brough the director up from L.A. and he met J.T. Leroy.) 

Unfortunately, the articles i read didn't contain any interviews with jurors so we don';t know how it reached its verdict.  (All we can really say is that it believed Albert acted wrongfully/deceptively.)  Once it reached it, the judge, as judges usually do, refused to overrule it.  Now, I guess we see if there's an appeal and what the appelate court does.

Anyway, a fascinating story.  Thanks

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JT LeRoy: Authors and litigation

First, the disclosure, I am the appellate attorney handling the appeal in this matter on behalf of Laura Albert. I did so because the Authors' Guild, with whom I have previously worked, asked me to do so and my study of the case made it clear that an injustice had been done. That having been said, there are some points I think need to be made.

First, unlike some of the other works referred to in Mr. Levin's post, which I find to be measured and well-presented, the works of JT LeRoy were never presented as autobiographical or factual. To the contrary, they are expressly presented as a novel, fiction. Why then does it make a difference if the author choose to use a fictional name, or even a fictional back-story? The writing stands on its own. If it speaks to you, it does so as a work of fiction. Surely, if you read a crime novel it is of little consequence if the writer spends his day time hours as an attorney, a sanitation worker or a cop. You are interested in the story and the writing.

Hence, why does it matter to you if JT LeRoy is really a former truck-stop prostitute, or a single mother living in California?

Second, while it is nice to say that the movie was to incorporate aspects of JT's life, reading the contract shows that there is no provision for such a melding of the fictional book and the author's real life story. There is no contractual representation as to any aspect of JT's / Laura's real life. Rather, it contains a representation that the signatory was the sole author of the work, which is true, and little else.

Also, it should be remembered that this was not the first JT work to be turned into a film. The Heart is Deceitful Above All Else was also a film, and the fact that JT was a fictional name had no meaningful effect on the content, substance or success of that movie.

Third, while I am a great believer in the jury system, one of the failings is, unfortunately, its susceptibility to a herd mentality. Respectfully, I believe that such is what happened here. When combined with some unfortunate comments by the judge, I do not believe that the verdict reflect the proper result. And, while it is very difficult to overcome a jury verdict, this is one of those cases that cry out for judicial review and reconsideration.

Finally, lest the point has been missed, this is a work of fiction, not a memoir, not fact. If you like the writing, great. If you dislike it, so be it. But do not be fooled. The history of the author has nothing to do with the quality and value of the work. Don't be lazy; evaluate that on your own.